Op-Ed: A call for Action to Colleges

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The struggle for exceptional cases in a standardized admissions process reveals a fault in the process. (Image Credit: College Transitions)

As Regular Decision deadlines for most US schools approach, I came into a New York Times article published on July 24th, 2023, that shows research results (excluding M.I.T) on college admission rates; pointing that families from the top 1% income status enjoy admission rates 2–4 times higher than students within similar standardized testing scores or extracurricular activities.

The study also noted that students from this affluent group increasingly invest in college counseling, exam preparation, and letters of recommendation—requirements in the admission process. This prompts the question: What happens to an exceptional applicant who meets university requirements but lacks the external means to fulfill them?

According to the QS Rankings, a descending ranking in partnership with science journals that evaluates universities excellence factors, a great majority of the best 20 universities worldwide are located in the US, accounting for around 50% of the 2024 top-20 list. 30% accounts for other countries and 20% for UK universities.

Over the latest months I have been more involved in the college admission process for US schools, and the greatest obstacle I’ve noticed is for students from vulnerable or exceptional backgrounds to submit, approve and accomplish documentation required from third parties. A student from a vulnerable background includes disabilities, educational needs, and if the environment readiness and laws are supporting for timely attention of the student’s documentation requests. I have lived this personally, and it took a much greater procedure than a standard application — including proving voluntary weeks-long training to education department public officials for international documentation sending, and for English translation — to accomplish most of the requirements. However, now the given guidance and specific outlines will now serve as a solid base for future applicants.

India is one of the countries that is growing in experience gained from families or alumni that acknowledge of international application procedures and specialized counseling. However, some undergraduate student national alliances rely on political and financial benefits that are subject to fluctuate.

Analyzing in more detail of one of most schools’ requirements, SAT or ACT test taking; in highly developed countries such as the US, according to the latest Human Development Index (HDI) report, it’s commonly suggested to students and families to file with justice departments for exceptions in standardized testing. From a recent view, that is the case of a complaint filed with company of the US Department Education Office of Civil Rights on May 10th, 2020. The complaint sent to the company administering the SAT, the College Board, was about Advanced Placement (AP) exams new online format not assessing visual impairment needs, removing braille tests and other disability-specific accommodations. One of the affected student’s story was later named as an advocacy-led fight for civil rights.

In contrast, it’s almost improbable for a student from a vulnerable background without any guidance, to reach out and concretize exceptionalities. I validated this information during communication with one of College Board’s members, where I reached out for an accommodation request just 2 days before my Digital SAT due to the side effects of my visual degenerative disease due to prolonged close work use without extended breaks: eye redness, eye tiredness, and blur. Although my case is still being processed, causing side effects to still be a difficulty at the test, I was placed in a brighter room for the test day to reduce eye redness — which was more feasible due to being a direct coordination with the test center. However, for its urgent coordination, my mom and I arduously complied and translated national and international documentation of my diagnosis; after that via call I received a negative response for any possibility of an accommodation, we subsequently researched headquarters emails, which are rarely accessible.

Students with different or specially advanced curriculum education (which may include certain homeschooled students) are among of the rarest cases to apply to elite colleges. At the same time as some universities, such as M.I.T, have accessibly published in their websites their openness to academical letters from tutors, mentors or job managers; I’ve found others that let unclear its acceptance in the admission process. This requirement is usually fulfilled with the submission of a unique form filled by the academical recommender; a strategy to ensure the information’s credibility and confidentiality; however, situations from rare different education modes, such as administrative silence from tutors of external programs, and where coordinators professional ethic is not a priority (a specific situation of low developed countries), will potentially delay the student’s application.

Answering my initial question: while we might consider the accomplishment of these requirements as duties of the applicant student, commonly used standardized forms for US schools application, such as the Common App, and universities must consider feasibility for these rare exceptional cases that have taken a greater effort, where external impediments that are completely out of their power go beyond their primary duties.

Written by Emily Ulloa

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