One student, a white male from a rigorous high school hoping to become a doctor, writes about the pride he felt upon being named Eagle Scout. Another, a black female with a 3.8 grade point average but a 22 ACT score, discusses her passion to work with people of different nationalities as an engineer. The third, an Asian male with a family income below $25,000 who attends a high school that sends few students to college, recounts how a teacher refused to purchase chemicals for a science-fair experiment he had spent six months conducting. Each student has poured their dreams and aspirations into their applications to the University, and now groups of high school counselors sitting in the Michigan Union ballroom have 20 minutes to determine each applicant’s fate. But these counselors aren’t making the official decisions. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions used the applications, received in 2004, as part of a training exercise during a workshop for high school counselors last month. Their evaluations and the University’s explanation of its decision on each application shed some light into the inner workings of the new undergraduate admissions policy instituted in 2003.
The recent history of the University’s undergraduate admissions policy is a story of controversy and change. It involves a bitterly fought lawsuit, a debate on the social value of diversity that engaged students, professors and our nation’s political – and even corporate – leaders, and a ruling from the highest court in America that defined the future of affirmative action. The product of this years-long conflict is a revamped, yet still controversial admissions policy. The University praises it for creating a highly individualized review process, and critics deride it for treating race in the same way, only using different terminology. The University’s admissions policy is more of a mystery now after all the debate, and it includes several aspects that may surprise you, no matter where you stand on affirmative action.
“Chip Mijigan,” the white male interested in studying medicine, scored a 27 on his ACT and earned a 3.7 recalculated GPA while attending a high school offering Advanced Placement courses in everything from Latin to statistics to visual arts. Chip enrolled in two AP courses his junior year and three in his senior year, as well as honors math and science courses. Besides Boy Scouts, he worked as a caddy at his local country club, played soccer and participated in a youth forum on medicine in Atlanta. In his essay, he wrote about the suffering he felt from his parents’ divorce and explained that he overcame the pain by finally communicating his feelings to his parents.
“Victoria Valiant,” an Asian female who also attended a college preparatory high school, did very well on her standardized tests, scoring a 34 on her ACT, and completed a challenging curriculum filled with advanced science, math, and English classes. She played violin in the school orchestra, attended summer music and science camps and worked as a debate coach. In her sophomore year, Victoria jumped ahead one year in her high school’s honors math track, studying calculus as a junior, but she received C’s in her math classes and B- grades in her science classes for an overall 3.3 GPA. Yet she also received an encouraging recommendation from her high school math teacher, who advised her to skip ahead in math.
“Mason Blue,” the Asian male and poorest of the four applicants, is the son of a self-employed restaurant chef and attended a small high school offering no AP classes. He only scored a 20 on his ACT, but took the advanced classes that were available and earned a 3.6 GPA. He participated in the student council, science Olympiad and science fair and volunteered at a hospital. In his essays, which were replete with grammatical and stylistic mistakes, Mason talked about the source of his self-determination – his parents repeatedly told him his dream of becoming a doctor is naA_ve, and mistrustful teachers encourage him to enter advanced science competitions but fail to provide him the resources necessary to compete.
The last applicant, “Anne Arbor,” is a black female from a middle-class family who attended a large high school offering a decent curriculum. Anne had a 3.8 GPA while taking advanced science, math and computer programming courses, but scored only a 22 on her ACT. She held several jobs while in high school, but her most valuable experience was voluntarily organizing food drives through the National Honors Society. In her essays she wrote about her passion to become an engineer, as well as the financial and emotional consequences of her parents’ divorce.
The Admissions Process
Had they applied to the University before the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the four applicants would have been evaluated under a much different system. The old points-based admissions policy, struck down by the court for treating race too systematically, would have awarded Anne 20 extra points out of a possible 150 for being an underrepresented minority