Quora: How Much Is Race a Factor in College Admissions?

Increasing enrollments by reducing the cost of college is only the first step. Funds should be tied to academic progress if free tuition is to blossom, the author writes. Brian Snyder/Reuters

Quora Questions are part of a partnership between Newsweek and Quora, through which we'll be posting relevant and interesting answers from Quora contributors throughout the week. Read more about the partnership here.

Answer from Aaron Ellis, studied at University of California, Berkeley:

My freshman year in Berkeley was 1998, a year after affirmative action had been eliminated as a factor in college admissions in California. Presumably, everyone who got into the school would be academic equals, the best of the best.

My dorm room freshman year was a triple, so I had two roommates.

  • There was me, a black AP Scholar with a strong GPA who was joining the track team.
  • There was a Mexican American kid who had a flawless GPA and was the valedictorian of a large San Diego high school.
  • And there was a Caucasian guy from Washington who had a 3.2 GPA and mediocre test scores.

The Caucasian roommate was very open about the fact that he was basically a lucky admit. He was at the lower end of all of the admission standards. But the important thing is this: he met the admission standards. Because he met the minimum admissions standards, he was worthy of a place in the university. So I never questioned if he deserved to be admitted into the school, even as I watched him struggle academically and go on academic probation.

In my time in college, I met lots of people of all races who were all over the spectrum in terms of high school achievements. Folks on the outside, especially the bigots and the disgruntled rejects, love to paint the picture of thousands of black people getting into college undeservingly, taking up the spots from other deserving (non-black) students. But the fact is, borderline admits come from all races and all places.

Believe it or not, there are lots of ways that people get advantages for admission. Lots of students are legacies, meaning they got in because their parents or grandparents were alums. Lots of people get admissions into schools because their parents are donors. Many people get favorability because they come from wealth or prestige. Some people get into a school because their parents are employees. You would be surprised how many fit all of these categories, and how they often lead to very shaky students getting admitted. Yet despite all that, we still hear that the greatest threat to colleges is undeserving black admits.

I realize that college admissions are becoming increasingly difficult, but it's about time that we stop with the minority scapegoating. Every school has its own unique admissions standards. If you meet the minimum standards, then you deserve to get in. Period. Whether you have a 5.0 GPA, a 4.0 GPA or a 3.0 GPA, if you have met the admissions standards, then you are worthy. The utopia that people envision of only the absolute highest GPAs gaining admission is fantasy. It just doesn't work like that and never has. There are many factors, and unless you are on an admissions board, you don't know how important those factors weigh and do not get to make judgments upon those who are accepted.

Black graduation rates are consistently higher in more selective colleges. Brookings

Obviously, there are schools that make an effort to increase diversity by evaluating minorities in a different manner, particularly those who come from underprivileged backgrounds. But if they meet the minimum admission standards and end up graduating, then what does it matter in the end?

I sympathize with the good students who get rejected from schools. It hurts. But blaming black people accomplishes nothing. It's also often a copout to avoid actual introspection for why they didn't get admitted, such as:

  • No extracurriculars.
  • Lousy college essay.
  • Overall failure to stand out from others.
  • One-dimensional student applying to a school that favors well-rounded students.
  • Showing no ability to think for oneself.
  • Plagiarized college essay.
  • Lack of leadership experience.
  • Not being in line with the school's vision (entrepreneurial, political, religious, etc.)
  • Demonstrating questionable character.

There are so many reasons why one can be rejected from a school. Yet the argument we hear over and over is that underrepresented minorities stole all the admissions spots and then had the nerve to hog up all of the financial aid. It's not only an overrated issue, but it's largely untrue. It also rings of sour grapes from people who just want someone to blame for their own life failures.

I advise you refrain from listening to the internet haters who engage in minority scapegoating. The truth is that great students and high achievers will excel in life no matter where they go to college. The truly persistent people do not let college rejections get in their way from reaching their goals, and they certainly don't dwell on these things later in life when they've achieved their goals. The people who sit around playing the blame game are not the people you want to give your attention, because I can assure you they don't know what's really going on.

PS - My borderline roommate graduated with a degree in Environmental Science.

Does being a black person really help your chances in admissions for universities? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: