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All’s fair in admissions?

March 29, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

While we were all away on Spring Break, news broke of a particularly salacious college admissions scandal. From photoshopped athlete photos to fake diagnoses of learning disabilities, the extent to which some parents would go to get their children into college shocked many of us.

Or maybe it isn’t so surprising.

There are plenty of legal ways that families attempt to achieve an edge in the college admissions process. SAT and ACT prep classes, expensive boarding schools, intensive summer athletic camps, private college consultants, essay help—the list goes on and on. It might not be pretending to be a water polo player or flying to Houston to take an SAT administered by a paid-off proctor, but the college admissions process has never been an even playing field.

To focus only on these scandals, and not the broader inequities, is to perpetuate these structures and to let those of us who have legally used our privilege continue to ignore all the advantages we have received.

Though Bowdoin wasn’t tied up in the recent wrongdoing, many students here benefited from privilege during the college admissions process. Every student on campus deserves to be here—but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of students out there who aren’t here because they never heard about Bowdoin, didn’t know how to navigate college admissions or didn’t receive the kind of enrichment and encouragement that would have let them make the most of their potential.

As President Clayton Rose and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Whitney Soule told the Orient this week, Bowdoin’s SAT-optional policy plays a key part in protecting the College from one of the attempts seen in this scandal. It also makes admissions overall more equitable for students who are either not good test takers or unable to access score-raising activities such as retaking the test, enrolling in pricey prep courses or attending schools that integrate effective prep into the curriculum. Now more than ever, we are proud of this policy.

The newly introduced video supplement is another strategy that diminishes the effects of legal privilege-leveraging. It provides an opportunity for students to represent themselves to the College without benefiting from outside help, paid or unpaid, in the way that they might with an essay.

Going forward, we would like to see the College consider more policies that counteract the privilege-maintaining structures that exist in college admissions across the nation, and as such we would like to toss out some ideas. While we’re sure the admissions team has already considered these ideas, we think it’s important that students and the campus community talk about the way admissions works here. Providing the opportunity for, or even requiring that, students submit portfolios of their high school work could mitigate grade inflation at private high schools or provide a more thorough view of students’ work over time. Continuing to expand recruiting travel and the availability of alumni interviewers would allow students who might find getting to Brunswick challenging the opportunity to make a dynamic, personal impression on the College.

Bowdoin has a history of being on the forefront of equitable college admissions, becoming the first college in the nation to go SAT-optional in 1969. In the wake of this national scandal, the College ought to raise the bar even higher by continuing to break down the role of privilege in admissions. We’ve done it before, we can do it again. And keep doing it until the process is fair.


This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Anjulee Bhalla, Roither Gonzales, Dakota Griffin, George Grimbilas, Calder McHugh and Jessica Piper.  


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