Turning the Tide initiative may even the playing field for college admissions process

Mubarrat Choudhury

Going through the college admission process may have gotten slightly less stressful for students nationwide. The Harvard Graduate School of Education, in partnership with other top tier universities, released a report titled, “Turning the Tide,” calling for a widespread change in the college admissions process. The report emphasized that colleges’ admissions ought to promote greater ethical engagement, reduce excessive pressure and level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students.

Honestly, the college admissions process for a lot of universities is aristocratic. According to the New York Times, in 2000 about 55 percent of freshman in the United States’ top 250 most selective colleges were from the highest quarter earning households. That means that a huge portion of students that attend the best universities are from the wealthiest families in the nation — and that’s a problem. In the same article William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s director of undergraduate admission, warned about the negative consequences of mostly wealthy student bodies.

“We’re very worried,” Fitzsimmons said. “There are some very, very talented kids in the bottom quartile who aren’t even going to college. It’s a huge waste of talent.”

The college admissions process is essentially a competition among high school students. In an extremely aggressive admissions environment students have to do extraordinary activities, maintain extraordinary grades and achieve extraordinary test scores — a lot of which is easier to attain when a student has a means to pay for them. Sarah Kendzior, journalist for Al Jazeera English, wrote about the advantages that some students have in the college admissions process.

“Students who shell out for exotic volunteer trips abroad compete with students of the ‘unexotic underclass’ — the poor who make up most of the US today,” Kendzior said. “Aptitude is a quality measured by how much money you can spend on its continual reassessment.”

The Turning the Tide report seeks to address this problem of unequal opportunity by shifting the paradigm that most top tier universities use for their admissions program. Unlike previous efforts regarding this issue, Turning the Tide is a coalition of colleges and universities that, for the first time, are coming together to effect widespread change in the system. Evin George, an electrical engineering freshman at the University of Texas, talks about his experience with the college admissions process and the possible benefits of Turning the Tides.

“I definitely felt that people who had more resources financially had more opportunities than I did, such as taking [a] prep course, having [a wider range] of classes to take, and having the ability to travel around the world, made me feel inadequate because I wasn’t able to do everything people in top high schools did,” George said. “Turning the Tide will help the admission system to look at how an individual gives back to their society. You can be the richest and smartest person, but if you don’t give back, then the money you have is pointless.”

The Turning the Tide report is only the beginning of a bigger movement. Top-tier educational institutions have long acknowledged the ever-increasing problem of the unequal opportunities present within admissions, but are only now being pressured to change the values that surround the process. This is a testament to the fact that there is an immediate need for a more inclusive system in college and university admissions. At the end of the day, there cannot be change until the institutions themselves acknowledge the problem — and it’s about time they did.

Choudhury is an economics freshman from Dallas. Choudhury is a Senior Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Mubarratc.