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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Name-Blind College Admissions
A few weeks back, I wrote about legacy admissions. In case you missed it, legacies in the college admissions context have to do with giving preference to children of prominent alumni. "Prominent" may mean anything from "famous to "generous donor". It sounds icky when you call it like it is-non merit-based preferences in a system that is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy.

In reality, legacy admissions make sense, from a business perspective. Big names draw prestige. Prestige draws donations. Money makes institutions better. It may even be subtler than that. Prestige is its own life force. Universities with auspicious alumni are just treated differently. They are catalogued on a higher shelf in the collective consciousness.

So let's put aside my personal beef with legacies. (If they exist, so too should affirmative action. And I'm not sure how this all squares with meritocracy). A recent Washington Post blog reminded me that the eldest of President Obama's two daughters, Malia, is a senior in high school. This means she's currently touring colleges.

As the Post rather cumbersomely asks, "Imagine seeing 'Malia Obama' on a college-admission application". Well yes, let's. The daughter of a sitting U.S. President. For better or worse, people will be paying attention to the college of her choice. I know nothing of Ms. Obama's grades or test scores, but I'll go out on a limb and state the following: it would be a difficult name for an admissions officer not to notice.

What does this mean for college admissions? I see it as another reminder of just how impossible it is to keep the process wholly objective. Even assuming the President's daughter should be admitted based on her performance and not her name, it may not be reasonable to expect universities to separate the two.

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