Emil Guillermo: Common App deadlines, post-SCOTUS Harvard admissions, and the resource problem exposed

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Photo via Boston Globe

I didn’t want to let the Nov.1 deadline for the so-called “Common App” go without mention. If you missed it, there’s still time to get your application in to the school of your choice, since many schools still have admissions deadlines into January.

But if you want to apply to Harvard, the litigants’ school of choice, Nov. 1 was it.

I don’t mean to criticize the tool that in some ways has streamlined the process and helped colleges see all the worthy candidates out there for admission.

But the Common App has also made it much more competitive for everyone–especially when people who would never have applied to an Ivy League school, or whatever school they deem impossible, get to throw their names in the hat.

All the hats.

The Common App simply lets you write in the name of your dream school.

It’s easier than buying a lottery ticket.

That’s both good and bad.

When I looked over the Harvard data just before the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action, I saw how it beat back the elitists. That’s a good thing. Go ahead take your shot. Make them look at you.

A few weeks ago, I talked to the top Harvard admissions officers in Cambridge and asked what they would do now with the new SCOTUS decision against race-conscious admissions.

What would they say if the new class were 40 or 50 percent Asian American?

No answer. They don’t know what will happen. They will continue to pick the best class using the SCOTUS guidelines.

And they will continue to broaden their base of recruits.

In that sense, the Common App helps immeasurably. You have a lot of people applying to Harvard–not as a joke but as a hope, a dream. Looking to be picked as that diamond in the rough.

They may not have the qualifications that many Asian Americans have. But there’s a chance.

And how the Asian number will be affected is anyone’s guess.

The current admissions process at Harvard has shown a remarkable effectiveness in admitting Asian Americans: 25.4 percent in 2019; 24.5 percent in 2020; 27.2 percent in 2021; 27.8 percent in 2022; 29.9 percent in 2023.

That’s 29.9 percent. Don’t say 30. Admissions officers don't want to think about it. But if the lawsuit helped Asians, it would have to go higher–maybe as much as 40 percent, as some Asian parents believe–based on "merit" like grades and test scores.

But would that be equitable? At 7 percent of the population, AAPIs are already exceeding expectations. And yet some in the community still want more and complain about discrimination.

And that’s the bad thing the Common App has exposed.

This year’s 56,937 Harvard applicants were just a tad off last year’s all-time high of 61,220 applicants. In 2021, the pool was 57,435.

This is the competition for the same 2,000 or so freshman class spaces, a number that has been consistent for decades.

Harvard? The physical school may be expanding from Cambridge into Allston. But it isn’t making more seats open for incoming students.

The only thing that’s changed has been the enormous applicant pool.

In 2002, when the applicant pool was 19,605, the acceptance rate was 10.5 percent. That was more in line in my day decades ago when the acceptance rate was one in 9.

This year, with the applicant pool approaching 57,000, the acceptance rate was 3.41 percent, the second lowest in the school’s history.

When you have only 2,000 open spaces a year, admissions officers have to be discriminatory. Just not the illegal or racist kind.

But tell that to those who don’t get in. Maybe the lottery types who didn’t expect to get in will be happy. But what about all those high grade, high test-scoring Asian Americans who will be among those rejected for 2024?

They won’t be happy, even after the SCOTUS push.

The issue is always resources.60,000 people applying for 2,000 spaces?

What it tells you is that people, no matter what race, want the quality that Harvard represents. All the schools should be Harvard, or as close as they can be.

But there will always be complaints about Harvard admissions if the available slots stay constant at just under 2,000.

So the answer goes back to what the Common App exposed. There’s a lack of resources when 60,000 want to get into Harvard and the number of open spots has stayed the same at least since the ‘70s.

The answer may be in digital and off-site offerings. Make a Harvard online. Get an AA not just an AB. Or get the full AB, remotely, pandemic style. Give the dreamers what they want. Or make a digital section just for the Harvard Asian Rejects. Who needs to be at Harvard Yard? Or have a view of the Charles River? Stay at home. Learn on Zoom. That’s really the answer to the problem, but there’s no appetite yet for that reality on a mass scale to accommodate 60,000 applicants.

But at least we see there’s a demand. People want to be elite. It’s all about status, education like a designer bag emblazoned with an LV.

So will a “made in China knock-off” do? Not in education.

You can’t just slap an “H” on Abilene Christian and pretend it's Harvard, can you?

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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on