College Guide


December 24, 2012 10:10 AM Should Harvard Start Admitting Kids at Random?

By Andrew Gelman

Now that the topic of discrimination in college admissions has hit the papers again, I thought I should repost this from the sister blog:

Ron Unz provides evidence that Jews are way overrepresented at Ivy League colleges, with Asians-Americans and non-Jewish whites correspondingly underrepresented. Unz attributes this to bias and pressure in the admissions office and recommends that, instead, top colleges should switch to a system based purely academic credentials (he never clearly defines these, but I assume he’s talking about high school grades, SAT scores, and prizes in recognized academic competitions). He recommends that Harvard, for example, get rid of preferences for athletes, musicians, and rich people, and instead reserve one-fifth of their slots based on pure academic merit and with the remaining four-fifth “being randomly selected from the 30,000 or so American applicants considered able to reasonably perform at the school’s required academic level and thereby benefit from a Harvard education.”

A lot would depend on where that lower threshold is set… .

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.


  • ceilidth on December 25, 2012 10:06 AM:

    I never thought I would agree with Unz about anything but I think he's onto something. My idea: each university sets a standard for itself. It could include tests administered by the school itself and taken in secure settings, grades, and whatever they want. But they have to make those standards public and use things that any student can do--such as participate in school activities but give no preference to kids who traveled to volunteer in Kenya or other places that favor the rich. They then have a lottery. No more ridiculous essays written by their tutors. No more years of SAT prep for the rich. Colleges could even group themselves so that people who didn't win the lottery at one school could have preference in another round.