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Harvard Wants You if You Have Grit and Humor

A high-stakes anti-Asian bias case against Harvard is providing a rare glimpse into the secretive selection process at the elite university
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   05-07-2019

BrainGain Magazine

The intense confabulations that take place inside 86 Brattle Street, a red brick building where Harvard University’s admissions committee gathers, are closely guarded.

However, a high-stakes anti-Asian bias case against Harvard is providing a rare glimpse into the secretive selection process at one of the world’s most elite universities.

Numerical scores from 1 to 6

Harvard admissions officers assign numerical scores from 1 to 6 to each college applicant and use the scores to decide their fates, according to court filings made public recently.

Applicants are rated in 14 categories including academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, athletic prowess, strength of character, up to four teacher recommendations, counselor recommendations, a “personal” and “overall” rating by staff, and a “personal” and “overall” rating by an alumnus.

Ratings range from 1 to 6, with 1 marking the highest possible score. Admissions officers can also add a “+” or “-” to a score to sift out stronger candidates from weaker ones, reported “The Harvard Crimson.”

“Those who have an overall score of 3- or worse are almost always rejected,” Duke Professor of Economics Peter S Arcidiacono, wrote in a briefing submitted by Students for Fair Admissions. “In contrast, those who receive an overall rating of a 1 are always accepted.”

Arcidiacono had access to Harvard’s data on students who applied to the college between fall 2009 and spring 2015.

The academic rating

In a nutshell, an applicant who receives a 1 academic rating usually “has submitted academic work of some kind that is reviewed by a faculty member.”

A candidate with a 2+ academic rating has “perfect, or near-perfect, grades and testing, but no evidence of substantial scholarship or academic creativity.”

An applicant who gets a 2 extracurricular rating has “significant school, and possibly regional accomplishments”— for example, a “student body president or captain of the debate team and the leader of multiple additional clubs.”

Personal component of an applicant's rating

The admission officers first arrive at a student’s personal score by “examining a variety of ‘subjective’ factors,” including applicants’ “character traits” and whether they have a “positive personality.”

Harvard’s filing states that admissions officers review candidates’ “humor, sensitivity, grit, leadership, integrity, helpfulness, courage, kindness and many other qualities” when determining the personal rating.

In a nutshell, a 1 score denotes “outstanding” personal skills; 2 denotes “very strong” skills; 3 denotes “generally positive” skills; 4 means a candidate is “bland or somewhat negative or immature”; 5 means the candidate possesses "questionable personal qualities”; and 6 points to “worrisome personal qualities.

Always says yes to an interview

“If an applicant participates in an interview, the interviewer — typically either an alumnus or an admissions officer — also assigns the candidate a "personal" and "overall" score,” reported “The Harvard Crimson.”

Although interviews are not mandatory, “those who do not interview are rarely admitted,” according to the court papers.

The overall score

After scoring applicants across all these categories, admissions officers assign students an “overall” score, per the filings. “The final score is not simply a composite of applicants’ other ratings; admissions personnel are instructed to arrive at this score by “stepping back and taking all the factors into account.”

After the first reader combs through an application, a “small group of admissions officers” reaches a “tentative decision” about whether to accept, waitlist, or reject an application. “Next, the full Admissions Committee—comprising nearly 40 members—convenes to “reach final decisions on applicants,” according to the Crimson.

Throughout this process, senior admissions officials review reports on applicants’ demographic data at “critical points,” including “at the close of the early-action and regular-decision cycles,” Students for Fair Admissions’ filings show.

“These documents, termed “one-pagers” track factors including the gender, location, legacy status, disadvantaged status, recruited athlete status, citizenship, and race of college hopeful,” reported the “Crimson.”



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