The Evolving College Admissions Landscape

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Joe Coletta- Director of College Counseling

Helping Students Manage the Supreme Court’s Decision

With a new school year comes requisite shifts within the ever-changing college admissions landscape. From the post-pandemic test optional movement, to the re-engineered FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), to increasingly inflated college applicant pools, today's college admissions process is often defined by change. Perhaps the most significant recent shift centers on the Supreme Court’s ruling last June against Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill, essentially ending Affirmative Action within the college admissions process.

And while the court's decision is both complex and nuanced, college counselors must ensure that students are tuned to the court’s decision. And we must do all we can to help students understand and appreciate the implications for their individual college search.

The court’s decision centers squarely on the colleges’ admissions evaluation processes. It is, in other words, the colleges’ responsibility to craft an admissions evaluation process that no longer considers race as a factor to determine which qualified applicants to admit. At the same time, the court makes it clear that students applying to college have unrestricted freedom in expressing how their racial identity has shaped who they are and what is important to them. In his decision for the court majority, Chief Justice Roberts notes that, “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life.”

If there is a silver lining to the court’s decision, it offers educators the opportunity— indeed the responsibility– to engage students in thoughtful discussions centered on race conscious college admissions. And thoughtful discussions should include helping students understand a college’s broader institutional enrollment goals in crafting its unique first-year class.

Most high school students understandably imagine that the college admissions process centers squarely on them, i.e., their academic profile, extracurricular involvement, optional standardized testing, and written recommendations. Of course these student-centric factors are central to the selective college admissions process. But as we know, even the most accomplished student may not be admitted by one or more highly selective colleges. In this case, the “qualified” applicant’s goal of being admitted may not match the college’s enrollment goals in building its unique first-year class.

Building a racially diverse student body is, of course, one of many enrollment goals for most colleges and universities. Others can include geographic and economic diversity, as well as including students who are first in their family to attend college. Enrollment goals also include institutional and programmatic needs centered on academic programs, as well as enrolling students with specific artistic or athletic talents. More pragmatically, colleges are interested in building a class that can yield future donors to help ensure long term funding. And while it is not feasible to fully identify each college’s individual admission needs and goals, it is possible for students to be aware of and appreciate broad institutional priorities that both drive and inform a college’s decision to admit (or deny) individual applicants.

In this context, the Supreme Court’s ruling is a renewed opportunity for students to consider a realistic college admissions process that includes factors beyond their individual admissions candidacy– and therefore, largely beyond their control. Helping students identify the dimensions of their college process they can control (including their academic profile, their communication within college essays and interviews, and choosing a balanced college list) along with the dimensions they cannot control (including colleges’ institutional goals and priorities) is central to The Governor’s Academy’s College Counseling Curriculum. And this important distinction will continue to inform our work with students as we keep pace with a process defined by evolution and change.

Author: Joe Coletta - Director of College Counseling

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