Affirmative Action Resources
Affirmative Action Infographics
Affirmative Action Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
MYTH: Asian Americans are hurt by affirmative action
FACT: Asian Americans benefit from affirmative action in both direct and indirect ways, and there is certainly no evidence of harm to Asian Americans by race-conscious admissions.
- Affirmative action helps to ensure that our universities, especially highly selective elite universities, remain accessible to students of all backgrounds. Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Southeast Asian American students have the most to gain directly from these policies.
- Affirmative action allows university spaces to be rich centers of cultural diversity, exposing students to wide arrays of perspectives. According to decades of research, all students, including Asian American students, can benefit from educational institutions intentionally creating diverse teaching and learning.
MYTH: Harvard’s personal rating is a personality test
FACT: The “personal” rating is based on a wide variety of factors based on information gleaned from teacher recommendations, counselor notes, and the wider context of a student’s background. It exists so that the review process can recognize individuals’ personal qualities within the contexts of diverse lived experiences, not personality traits.
- While it includes personality traits from information gleaned from the personal statement and letters of recommendation, it is a very broad category that extends beyond “likeability” or “leadership” to include geographic location, school context, and parental occupation - all factors that shape diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander educational opportunities and specific contexts of achievement.
- Harvard, and many other similar institutions, aiming to create high quality educational settings, which require student diversity along many lines. The question this rating seeks to answer is not ‘what personality qualities does this student possess’, but ‘who is this specific student, based on everything they have lived through, experienced, and overcome’.
MYTH: A lower average personal rating for Asian American students is proof of anti-Asian discrimination
FACT: There is no evidence that Asian Americans are being denied entrance into Harvard or any other selective institution because they are Asian American. The plaintiff’s analysis is remarkably misleading. The analysis failed to account for several vital factors and data. The Arcidiacono model does not isolate a relationship between race and likelihood of admission because the model egregiously ignores the role of the personal statement, letters of recommendation, and counselor’s note. These are all very influential factors in calculating the personal rating.
Any biases associated with being Asian American vanish when the model is corrected to include necessary application components and control for special admissions. As Card suggests in his analysis, there are other factors that might better explain any seeming disparities amongst Asian American applicants.
- Geographic Diversity: Asian Americans are heavily clustered on either coast, particularly New York and California. When educational institutions are building their classes, they consider the unique perspectives that students bring due to their geographic background. For Asian Americans applicants from California, there was a .31 percentage point increased likelihood of admission at Harvard, compared to White students with similar observable factors. This was part of a positive, but statistically insignificant trend.
- Choice of Study: There is a much larger number of Asian American students applying to Harvard in the most competitive fields of study. Medicine, Science, and Business have the lowest admittance rates (5%, 7%, and 6% respectively) and the highest share of Asian American applicants. Teaching, Arts, and Government has comparatively higher admittance rates (10%, 8%, and 8% respectively) but much lower shares of Asian American applicants.
- Parental Occupation: Parental occupation plays numerous roles in the admissions process. It it normally viewed as a signal of socio-economic status, but Card suggests that it could also weighed in connection with students’ intended career. The lived experiences of a STEM student with parent(s) working in STEM fields look very different than those of an aspiring engineer whose parents are in the service industry or firefighters. There is a great deal of economic diversity amongst AAPIs and the vast majority are not in STEM fields. However, within certain Asian American communities (particularly Indian, Taiwanese and Chinese), there are higher rates of healthcare professionals, technology experts, and scientists.
MYTH: Asian Americans have to score higher than White students to be admitted at the same rate.
FACT: The 2009 Princeton study that is frequently used to prove an “Asian American penalty” uses outdated data and a remarkably small sample. Court rulings and adjusted admissions practices have since changed what holistic admissions look like at colleges. At Harvard, Asian American students are admitted at a slightly higher rate than comparable White students.
- Non-special admit White students are admitted at a rate of 4.91% and Asian Americans are admitted at a rate of 5.15%.
- Among legacy students, Asian American students were 3.12 percentage points more likely to be admitted than White students
MYTH: Asian Americans have the same advantages as White students.
While some Asian American communities have increased access to college readiness materials or well-funded schools, Asian Americans remain underrepresented across all special admissions categories at Harvard.
- Legacies, athletes, students on the Dean/Director’s Interest List, and children of faculty/staff have significantly higher chances of admission. All of these categories except children of staff remain overwhelmingly White.
- Over 20% of White students accepted to Harvard from 2010-2015 were legacies, compared to less than 7% of Asian American and Latinx students and less than 5% of Black students.
MYTH: Grades and test scores are the determining factors when applying to an elite institution.
FACT: Harvard and other highly selective institutions could fill their incoming classes with highly academically qualified students several times over. Elite institutions have educational missions that are not limited to educating the best test-takers. Instead, they aim to educate students with a multitude of talents. High academic rank alone does not entitle anyone to admission.
- Applicants must be strong across multiple metrics, both easily observable and not. Still almost all applicants across all races will be rejected. Harvard rejects 95% of all their applicants. Harvard gives students ratings across 4 broad categories: academic, athletic, personal, and extracurricular.
- Students go through a rigorous evaluation process, receiving ratings from admissions officers, alumni interviewers, and sometimes additional admissions staff. According to Card’s analysis, only 12% of students at Harvard did not receive high scores across multiple admission review criteria , meaning that almost all of Harvard’s large pool of applicants are highly qualified and multi-dimensional students. In order to be competitive in such a qualified applicant pool, students must excel across the different metrics.
MYTH: Diversity refers only to racial diversity.
FACT: Harvard and many other elite colleges and universities have made commitments to diversity across ideological, cultural, racial, and socio-economic lines.
- One of the factors that is frequently overlooked is intended field of study. A much larger share of Asian Americans (30%) apply as premedical students than White students (19%). This field is one of the most competitive and has a lower acceptance rate than teaching or government.
- In Card’s analysis, fewer Asian Americans than White students who ranked highly on observable non-academic factors. These included metrics such as socio-economic factors (i.e., financial aid applications, application waivers, first generation college status), parental occupation and education, special admissions factors (i.e., athlete, legacy, double legacy, faculty or staff child, Dean Director’s list), early decision applications, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation (teacher 1, teacher 2, counselor), alumni interviews, and personal rating.
MYTH: The growing Asian American applicant pool and stagnant admissions rates are proof of anti-Asian discrimination.
FACT: Admissions rates for students of color at Harvard have not been stagnant. The share of Asian American students in each admitted class has grown 27% percent since 2010.
- Asian Americans apply to elite institutions at higher rates than any other racial group even though academic achievement still varies amongst students. The rising rate of applications does not necessarily align with the same high quality. Innovations like the Common App have made it easier for more students to apply to more schools.
- There is measurable annual variation of students across racial backgrounds, due to changes in characteristics among each year’s cohort of applicants. This variation suggests that Harvard is not imposing racial quotas.
MYTH: Asian Americans oppose affirmative action.
FACT: Most AAPIs strongly support affirmative action.
- SFFA represents a vocal, but small group of mostly Chinese Americans partnering with white anti-affirmative action activists. Even still, SFFA is led not by Asian Americans, but by Edward Blum. He has played into the fears of Asian American parents and students in order to undermine affirmative action policies across the country
- Most of all, the narrative that Asian Americans oppose affirmative exists to drive a wedge between us and other communities of color. We do not support measures that would keep out underserved and marginalized students within our communities and other communities of color.
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