The Ivy League’s Worst Kept Secret – Erin Lee, Canada


In 2013, a grand total of 247,283 applications were submitted to the eight prestigious American post-secondary institutions collectively known as the Ivy League. Of those applications, 23,010 were approved, leading to an overall acceptance rate of approximately 10.7% (according to These figures illustrate that attaining a coveted spot at one of highest-ranking schools in the country is not only a fierce competition but a lottery – a gamble that requires, for lack of a better term, luck.

Unfortunately, Michael Wang was one of the 224,273 applicants who did not have luck on their side. With an SAT score of 2230 out of 2400, a perfect ACT score of 36 and thirteen Advanced Placement courses listed on his transcript, Wang’s academic record is difficult to even achieve, much less emulate. His extracurricular activities were equally as impressive and diverse; he sang with a choir at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, participated in nationwide debate competitions, and devoted time to tutoring students of lesser socioeconomic backgrounds.

However, his extracurricular activities and academic record managed to impress only one Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania. The seven others, as well as Stanford, mailed him rejection letters that delivered disappointment but ultimately no answer to his question: why? Why had he been rejected when his peers, who had neither his scores nor his extracurricular activities, had not? The only conclusion he could reach was that he was Asian-American, and his accepted peers were not.


The Ivy League schools have maintained a tradition of diversity.  It is a tradition that promotes the multicultural environment they are admired for, but it often plays a different role in the admissions process. In order to maximize diversity, universities have been known to limit the number of students of overrepresented ethnicities/races in favour of students of ethnic minorities such as African-Americans. In the early 20th century, the overrepresented race used to be Jews; one century later, Asian students are being kept out of the spotlight.

Having reached the conclusion that Princeton, Yale and Stanford had rejected him because of his race, Wang filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on the basis of racial discrimination. He was not the only one pursuing action; coalitions and nonprofits such as Students for Fair Admissions have filed lawsuits against major names such as Harvard, claiming that unfair discriminatory practices have been at play in the undergraduate admissions process. Representatives of Harvard have replied to such accusations by pointing to statistics; in the recent years, Asian-American students have made up approximately 20% of the student body and are one of the largest demographics in the school. Other schools, such as Princeton, have responded by emphasizing the holistic admissions process, maintaining that there are qualitative and quantitative aspects that are taken into consideration.

The competitive nature of the Ivy League undergraduate admissions process is unlikely to cease, as the pool of applicants vying for the chance to study at America’s leading institutions only grows larger with every passing year. With an ever-increasing demand and an ever-present lack of available spots, it is likely that these sought-after postsecondary institutions will be mailing even more rejection letters than before. Michael Wang happened to be one of the many unlucky recipients who chose to question the rather murky nature of the admissions process.  It has prompted many students, in fact, to question the extent to which diversity is maintained and academic meritocracy is protected.


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