Episode 9: Where is the (College) World Heading?

Episode 9: Where is the (College) World Heading?

Date of Publication/发布日期
October 30, 2020
Curtis Westbay
Files & media
Volume 1 2020-2021

Recent concerns over college admission

In this post, I will address a few of the most frequent questions I have heard recently from parents about trends in college admission from the first two evening parent events. → Tensions between China and the U.S. and their impact on American college admission for Chinese students → Recent court decisions regarding race-neutral college admission → Coronavirus, public health, and new test-optional policies → Compatibility of students' applications in multiple countries

Question #1: How will the recent geopolitical tensions between the United States and China affect applicants from China?

This is a frequent concern I hear about from parents, as the American President and a few American Congresspersons have ratcheted up divisive political rhetoric in the past few years. I do not find their political posturing as a cause for concern when it comes to college admission chances for Chinese applicants.

Setting aside their spurious claims and the divisive language they use to deflect blame, political figures don't set the admission priorities or targets for colleges, and even public universities rely on international student enrollment to fill their incoming classes and to close budget gaps with the tuition that international students pay.

In recent years, Chinese international students have consistently remained the largest share of international enrollment in the U.S. at about a third of the total international student population. This is nearly double the next largest international coalition— students from India. Any decision made by American lawmakers meant to curtail the number of Chinese international students in the U.S. would surely be met with stiff resistance from the administrative decision-makers at those schools. Colleges are, after all, businesses. I don't see a world in which colleges make a drastic shift away from their current allotments of acceptances of international students from China.

Question #2: What impact will recent court decisions like Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard have on college admission practices?

Because I have several blog posts scheduled in January that will address court cases regarding race-neutral college admission, affirmative action, and government regulation, I won't go into extensive detail here.

For the unacquainted, here's a short description of SFFA v. Harvard—

  • A group of Asian-American plaintiffs sued Harvard University for discriminating against them in their rejected college applications
  • The lawsuit alleged that Harvard's admission process violated American legislation— the Civil Rights Act of 1964— meant to prevent race-based discrimination
  • A year ago in October 2019, a U.S. Federal judge ruled that Harvard's admission practices, while flawed, do not violate American Constitutional law

The takeaway here is, race will continue to be used as one of many factors in college admission at elite American universities. Of course, SFFA v. Harvard wouldn't directly impact the vast majority of our students at BIPH even if it were decided in favor of the plaintiffs, because these protections would be afforded to Asian-Americans, not international students. In any event, race will be considered in college admission, which means the status quo ante still persists and our college guidance, score targets, and activity advising will reflect the astronomical standards that have, in the past, yielded college acceptances for our students at elite universities. If colleges will set hard or soft quotas, the applicant pool for students from southern China will be among the most competitive. This is why, intimidating as they may seem, the targets that we provide students for top universities may seem jarringly high. This is just the reality for applicants from China as of now.

Question #3: Will the test-optional policies embraced by many universities persist, even if the coronavirus pandemic which prompted them comes to an end?

Many colleges have gone test-optional or test-flexible for the 2020-2021 application cycle. In response to the temporary shuttering of testing centers in countries around the world, this certainly was the only appropriate response. In order to ensure student safety, these colleges adopted a policy where, if students didn't have an SAT score already, they did not need to submit one— i.e. a test-optional policy.

Of course, when it comes to students in mainland China, "optional" is rarely really optional. These tests are, and may remain, optional, but to not submit a score that a large number of the students against whom you are in direct competition are submitting is ill-advised. Even if these schools embrace test-optional or test-flexible policies in the post-COVID world, the BIPH College Admission department will continue to recommend the same testing strategies as before until there is sufficient evidence to suggest that colleges truly don't rely on these scores.

For now, choosing not to submit a test score deprives colleges of a context that they may have, until now, used as a basis for initial admission decisions about Chinese international students. After all, the SAT, for all its many faults, is just about the one fixed data point that colleges have been able to compare without adjustment until now. Even strong GPAs vary from school to school, both in terms of their calculation and in the effort required to obtain them. In short, colleges may stick by the test-optional policies they adopted to accommodate students applying during and after the height of the pandemic, but that doesn't mean students shouldn't be prepared to offer as much evidence of college readiness as possible.

Question #4: Will my child need to do different things when applying to colleges in different countries?

Yes. Students will use different application platforms to complete applications for universities in different countries. The preparation for these different applications, however, is pretty much the same. Students will need to focus on grades, test scores, and activities. The essays they must write could be different from country to country— e.g. the U.S. personal statement is a very different essay than the UCAS personal statement.

The good news is, in every instance, we are prepared to support students' applications. We have worked mostly with students applying to the United States, but we have had students apply to countries all over the world— U.K., Canada, Australia, etc.— and even in other parts of China— Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc. So, while the applications may be different, our advice to students in their preparation for the application will be broadly applicable and the support they receive in Grade 12 will be highly specialized.