There are several different kinds of hooks – or things that make your admission chance
significantly higher. The most obvious one is if you’re a star athlete – an All-American or
Olympian that can drastically improve the school’s sports team. Or if you’re a famous person –
Natalie Portman was accepted into Harvard after her debut in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
These individuals are recruited very early and given special treatment to help influence their
Second is if your parents or close relatives are alumni of the college. Much of the
colleges’ funds come from donations from alumni; therefore, the colleges in turn treat them and
their progeny well. An interesting note is that Harvard’s normal acceptance rate hovers around
6%, whereas the percentage for legacy is around 30%.
Next, a bragging right to these schools is how many “first-generation college students”
they can accept. Basically, you have an advantage if your parents did not attend college. I
remember at Admit Weekends, they would give percentages on how many of us were first-generation.
Finally, we come to the most controversial of them all: affirmative action. It’s an
undeniable, but harsh truth that Hispanics, Blacks, and Native-Americans are given preferential
treatment over Whites and Asians. This is attributed to that on average, the White and Asian
populations have overall stronger candidates. In fact, Harvard is currently being sued for affirmative action against Asians (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/us/harvard-asian-admission.html). The reason this exists is two-fold: diversity and population statistics. Colleges want to have a diverse class, and race is commonly used as a key diversity metric. However, Asians and Whites statistically far outperform Blacks and Latinos on the SAT and ACT. Below is a histogram showing the racial breakdown of various SAT math score buckets. You can see that see that Asians comprise 60% of the total number of students who scored above 750 on the SAT Math section in 2015. The percentage of Asians steadily increases along with the SAT math score, which lends some credence to the common stereotype that all Asians are good at math.
In fact, a study in 2005 in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education found that only 244 black students scored above a 750 on the math section of the SAT. This is the crux of why Blacks and Latinos have an easier time in elite college admissions; there are simply less of them with high SAT scores and if a college wants to admit more under-represented minorities (Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans) without taking too much of a hit to their SAT averages, then there aren’t that many people to pick from in the applicant pool. This effect becomes even more pronounced in graduate school admissions such as law, business, or medicine.
Next up, that all important number: GPA!