As a trial over alleged discrimination against Asian-Americans in Harvard admissions finishes its first week, one thing has become clear: there are ways to win a place at the Ivy League campus that fields a surplus of applicants with perfect grades and test scores.
Family wealth and connections to the school; athletic superiority; and an African-American or Latino background all significantly enhance an applicant's chances. In some instances, students whose families pledged over millions of dollars to fund a building got an advantage.
It has long been understood that you can, to some extent, buy your way into many of the US’s prestigious universities. There are certainly plenty of examples of people with more money than sense being admitted to elite educational institutions.
Jared Kushner, for example, got into Harvard despite having a mediocre academic record. To be fair, this may have had nothing to do with his father pledging $2.5m to the university shortly before he was accepted. Perhaps the admissions office just had a hunch that this was the genius who was finally going to bring peace to the Middle East.
A 2013 email exchange among Harvard administrators, for example, was presented at the trial last Wednesday. In one email (subject line: “My Hero”), the dean of the university’s Kennedy school of government commends the dean of admissions for doing a great job in extending offers to students with generous parents.
“I am simply thrilled about the folks you were able to admit,” the email says. “[Redacted] has already committed to a building.” The other people described as “big wins” in the email were connected to donors who had “committed major money for fellowships”.
Another email made public in the trial talked about rolling out the red carpet for an applicant whose family had donated $1.1m to Harvard.There is also an email exchange in which a Harvard development officer and an admissions dean discuss how much money they are likely to extract from a candidate.
The case expected to run through the end of the month.