The Issue with Ivies

Top-ranking college admissions contribute to systemic classism, racism


Stephanie Kontopanos, Assistant Editor

Growing up, I and many others hoped to apply to the Ivy Leagues. When I expressed this to people around me, I often heard I would need to study hard to get As and earn high scores on standardized tests.

While that still holds true, as I’ve learned more about the application process, I’ve also understood there’s more nuance and complexity in Ivy League admissions — and by the same logic, merit scholarships — than what most people understand.

Firstly, there’s the situation with legacy bias. According to The Guardian, 10 to 15 percent of students admitted to ivies are legacies. At Harvard alone, the acceptance rate for legacies is 27 percent higher than non-legacy applicants.

Legacy applicants, combined with children of faculty members and students whose parents have donated to the school, make up almost half the student body. These admissions decisions are thus also rooted in racism and elitism.

Most of these legacy students are Caucasian. As for elitism, it relates to generational wealth. If someone’s parents went
to an Ivy, they are likely wealthy enough to pay for it. That wealth is then passed down to the applicant.

Applicants are given advantage for a situation that’s out of their control. That’s great for them, but for poorer students who are less likely to be legacies, their application is weakened by something predetermined. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but this is generally how the situation unfolds.

Secondly, educational opportunities are often correlated with financial means. An applicant’s “merit” has ties to their socioeconomic standing. For example, if an applicant is economically disadvantaged, they will more likely live in the city and go to a public school.

According to the Atlantic, in both city schools and public schools, students score lower on standardized tests.

Furthermore, is a website that gives schools letter grades based

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on certain criteria such as academics, teachers, and college prep. Information on their site concludes that schools closer to downtown Kansas City are more likely to get “B,” “C,” and “D” academic ratings, which means that although students there may earn high grades, the quality of education is still low. This is especially true in comparison with schools in the suburbs, whose academics earn high “A” ratings.

Outside of the broader school system, more economic opportunities are available to those who are well-off. Even with standardized tests, wealthier people can pay for more and better resources, such as private tutoring. Wealthier people can pay to take the SAT or ACT several times, whereas someone who is less financially stable might only be able to take it once, leaving no room for improvement.

Programs like Acceptitas and Polygence that provide guidance on the “passion projects” that college admissions officers love to see cost thousands of dollars. Additionally, most Ivy League schools such as Columbia and Brown offer pre-college educational programs. These resources look great on a college application. They’re also very costly, which tells the school that you’ve given them so much money before
and you’re willing to do it again. It gives the college incentive to admit you based on both your merit and your financial contributions.

This isn’t to say that certain people don’t work hard for their Ivy admission, and it isn’t to say that they didn’t overcome obstacles or shouldn’t be proud of their accomplishments. It simply means non-legacies, people of lower economic status or persons of color have to work harder because of those disadvantages to get to the same place as their more privileged counterparts.

The Ivy Leagues and other colleges in general are finding solutions to level out these playing fields. Affirmative action programs, such as scholarships tailored toward racial minorities, attempt to remedy this problem. The common application’s “Additional Information” writing section allows for applicants to explain these complexities in their lives.

While this intent is sincere, the disparity in educational opportunities proves to be systemic, deep-rooted issues in our society that colleges alone can’t fix.