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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, February 12, 2018
College Admissions and the Idea of “Deservingness”
In a thought-provoking article in Pacific Standard, former admissions counselor Nadirah Farah Foley challenges third-level educational institutions to reframe their standards, shifting their self-definition from one in which they are "producers of value, not arbiters of merit".

Foley's article is centered in part upon the idea that having more diversity amongst admissions officers is a giant step towards having meaningful diversity within student populations. She notes that people tend to self-select, or be more likely to admit students with whom they can relate based on shared experience. It's a habit that is steeped in racism and classism which may be so deeply embedded as to be invisible to the admissions officer themselves. Put another way, accidental prejudice.

Privilege is generational. Over the past century, America attempted to distinguish itself from societies with monarchies, and explicit class systems. The capitalistic meritocracy was a captivating concept: to go from being a nobody to being a somebody required nothing more than hard work, rather than accident of birth. Yet time has proven this concept to be myth, and it is reflected nowhere more clearly than in the college admissions system.

While colleges like to think of themselves as producers of value, the barriers to entry have caused them to evolve into arbiters of merit. Arguments about affirmative action and legacy admissions are grounded in a fundamental conflict about how to define merit. Or, as Foley posits, a rudimentary struggle about how to evaluate a student's "deservingness".

She acknowledges the inherent challenge in systemic change, particularly in a space where access is caught the tight-fisted clutch of money, power, race, class and politics. Still, she has solutions. First, diversity needs to become a priority in the hiring of faculty, not just in the courting of students. Second, stop treating merit as a static characteristic, and recognize it as something that can be found in anyone.

That's as good a place to start as any.


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