Aftermath of the SCOTUS Ruling on Affirmative Action in College Admissions

Background: About two months ago, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down affirmative action in college admissions. Since then, U.S. colleges and universities have been eagerly awaiting guidance from the Biden administration on what this means to them. That guidance was released days ago.

On July 3rd, a racial discrimination lawsuit was filed against Harvard University based on its legacy admissions. According to the lawsuit between 2014 and 2019, students whose parents and family members were alumni were nearly six times more likely to be admitted, advantaging white students.

What has changed: The Common App, the application used by over a thousand U.S. colleges and universities, has made options for colleges and universities not to see the responses to the questions on race and ethnicity.

However, the SCOTUS ruling says that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

The SCOTUS decision and the lawsuit against Harvard have led to several changes including these:

  • Some colleges and universities have dropped legacy admissions, a policy that gives students related to alumni preferential treatment in admissions. For example, Virginia Tech dropped legacy admissions.
  • In addition, Virginia Tech also eliminated early decision, replacing it with early action. Typically, students from financially disadvantaged families are less likely to apply Early Decision because they need to compare financial aid packages from different colleges before making their final college decision.
  • Wake Forest University began offering an Early Action deadline only for students who would be the first in their families to attend college.

These changes are attempts to balance the impact of the SCOTUS ruling on the diversity of college and university student bodies.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

RPI, established in 1864, has about 6300 undergraduate students on a 275-acre campus in Troy, NY.

Schools – RPI has 5 schools:
Architecture School
  1. Architecture – The Architecture school has two programs: a five-year B.Arch. and a B.S. in Building Science. Architecture classes are located in one building and there are less than 70 freshmen studying in the Architecture school. 
  2. Engineering – Engineering is the largest school and has about half of all undergrads in 11 majors. The first three semesters are the same for all engineering majors, so students can be undeclared engineering to start. The school encourages project-based, collaborative learning. A capstone is required for all engineers.
  3. Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences – This school houses a number of interdisciplinary majors including Cognitive Science; Electronic Media, Arts and Communication; Electronic Arts, and the most popular major at this school, Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences. The school recently started a music major (technical or performance).
  4. Business – This is the smallest school with about 50 – 55 freshmen. This is an AACSB accredited school with strength in technical entrepreneurship. The school has a business incubator.
  5. Science – This is the second largest school and it houses RPI’s largest department, Computer Science.
All majors have a 24-credit humanities requirement.
The Arch – Students must participate in the Arch. They take their first semester junior classes in the summer after their sophomore year. In the fall or spring semester of their junior year they must spend a semester doing an internship, a co-op, a research project, civic engagement or study abroad.
Research – About 700 students participate in undergraduate research each year, as early as the second semester. RPI is a leader in Alzheimer’s research.
Accelerated Programs – Students can gain a Bachelors and a Master’s degree in 5 years, with financial aid carrying into the 5th year. The Bachelors and Master’s can be in different disciplines. Students apply for this opportunity when they are an RPI Junior. No GRE exam is needed.
There are also BS/MD, BS/JD, BS/MBA and BS/Ph.D. programs.
Admissions – RPI has ED I, ED II, and Regular Decision. They accept a number of different application forms, including the Common App. Students should have an A/A- average, a challenging curriculum with three years of science including Biology, Chemistry and Lab-Physics, as well as four years of math with pre-calculus (calculus recommended). Students need to submit SAT or ACT scores. RPI prefers that a STEM teacher write the academic recommendation letter. A creative portfolio is required for architecture, music and electronic arts majors and is recommended for game and simulation arts and science (GSAS) and electronic, media, arts & communications (EMAC) majors.
RPI gives credit for a 4 or 5 in AP courses and can students can receive up to 32 credits for AP courses.
Extracurricular activities – RPI has over 200 clubs and activities. The skiing/snowboarding club is the largest club with skiing/snowboarding 30 minutes from campus. It is easy to start a new club.
There is Greek life at RPI and students can “rush” at any time.
There are two NCAA Division I Ice Hockey teams, 21 NCAA Division III sports teams, as well as intramural and club sports. A multipurpose stadium seats 5000.
The student union building is fully run by students.
Student Union
Housing, Food and Transportation – Students are required to live on campus the first two years. There are freshmen-only buildings and there is themed housing (e.g., leadership housing). There are singles, doubles and triples. There is Greek housing both on and off campus.
There are four main dining halls. Students can have all-you can-eat buffet dining or use their Flex Dollars to buy food in cafes, in the Student Union, in the marketplaces or off-site.
Freshmen cannot have cars on campus. There is a free shuttle on campus, as well as a free local bus.
Financial Aid – No separate application is needed for merit aid. US Citizens, US Permanent Residents and Canadian citizens who submit the FAFSA and CSS Profile are considered for need-based aid.

Common Application Essay Prompts for 2013-2014

The 2013-14 essay prompts for the Common Application, used by 488 colleges, have been announced. There will no longer be a topic of your own choice. The word limit will be enforced and will be limited to between 250 and 650 words.  The essay instructions and prompts are as follows:

“Instructions. The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.”

What do you think about the changes? What would you write about, given these prompts?

Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA

 Earlier this month, I attended Drexel University’s Counselor Open House.

Basics – Drexel has:

  • 12,750 undergrads from 41 states and 74 countries with an average class size of 18 students.
  • 12 academic colleges with more than 70 undergraduate majors.

Drexel is on a quarter system. There are 4 ten-week quarters each year. This is a fast-paced environment so good time management skills are critical.

The campus is undergoing an expansion. You can see my photos of the:

  • New LeBow Business School construction; the building should be open this Fall. 
  • Chestnut Street Retail and Residential Complex.

Co-op – Drexel is known for its co-op programs. Majors allow zero, one or three co-op experiences. Check on-line to see how many co-ops your intended major offers.

A co-op experience is a half-year long. Students who do zero or one co-op can finish their degree in four years. Students who do three co-ops will be in college five years. The tuition rate per year varies based on how many co-ops you plan to do. For a 4-year program, tuition is $41,500 per year. For a 5-year program, tuition is $33,800 per year. Students take a Co-op 101 class before a co-op assignment; in that class they learn about things like the job search and resume writing.

Some co-op assignments are paid and some are unpaid. Specifics are on the Drexel web site. As an example, engineers are paid for co-op experiences, while Fashion majors are not paid. If a co-op is unpaid, it is no more than 20 hours per week, allowing the student to work for pay elsewhere the rest of the week. Co-ops can be local, national or international. 85% of co-ops are within 50 miles of Philly. Students who take an international co-op receive a stipend to defer travel costs.

Other experiential learning opportunities – Undergrads have an opportunity to do research in the summer after their Freshman year in the STAR program. Students often have an opportunity to do experiential learning for companies as part of their studies (e.g., marketing campaigns for car companies). In the business school, there is a business consulting class where groups of five students are assigned to projects for non-profit organizations. Students do reflective writing in an electronic portfolio to tie together classes, co-op experiences, and other experiential learning. There is a Senior capstone project.

Academic services include tutoring at the Dragon Learning Center, a Math lab, an office of Disability Resources, pre-law and pre-health advising, and add-on sections of a half-credit for key courses for at-risk students, career development and career services, co-op services including co-op coordinators by major.

Applying to Drexel – Drexel uses the Common App. There is no application fee. The average high school student admitted to Drexel had a 3.6 GPA and an average SAT score of 1220 (Critical Reading and Math).

Drexel has changed from rolling admissions to Early Decision and Regular Decision. Early Decision applications are due on 11/15 with a decision by mid-December. Regular decision applications are due on 1/15 with a 3/28 decision. Portfolios are needed for Graphic and Fashion Design. To get in the Dance Program, you need to audition.

All applications are reviewed for merit aid, without a separate application. National Merit Finalists get a full-tuition scholarship. An alumni endorsement scholarship is worth $1000.

The earned income form co-ops does not impact the student’s Expected Family Contribution.

Social Life – There are over 300 clubs. Drexel has Division I athletics, as well as intramural and club sports. All students can participate in music, theatre, and dance. There are 14 music ensembles.

Honors Program – Students with a high GPA and SAT will be considered for the Honors Program. High school students accepted into the Honors program averaged a 3.9 unweighted GPA average and 1380 on the SAT (2 sections). Students with a 3.5 unweighted GPA and a 1350 on the SAT have a good chance to get in the Honors Program. There is honors housing for 400 Freshmen; Drexel is working on establishing Honors housing for Sophomores. Honors students get free tickets to cultural events, have opportunities for travel or to present research, get priority registration, special advising, and graduate with distinction. Honors students need to take a number of Honors classes or turn regular classes into Honors classes by doing an extra project. Students in the Honors program are encouraged to volunteer and to visit Philly. Students in the Honors program have a major advisor and an Honors advisor.

Who would be happy here? I think a career-minded student that wants a co-op experience, who likes the city, who can manage their time, and can readily switch between work and school, might like Drexel.

August 1 Launch of the Common App

On August 1st, the Common Application, also known as the Common App, becomes available for use. While many colleges have their own college applications, 456 institutions use the Common App, making it easier for students to apply to multiple colleges.

The Common Application that will be launched on August 1 is very similar to the one used last year. To see the changes for first-year applications, students can look at the highlighted sections in the preview application.

The most dreaded portion of the Common App is the writing section. Students need to write a 250 – 500 word essay on a topic of their choice or on one of the five options provided. They also need to write about an extracurricular activity or work experience in the small space provided. Many colleges have a supplement to the Common App that may require additional essays.

I recommend that students write their essays before school resumes in September and life becomes more hectic. If you don’t think you’ll get it done without some structure, try my “Common Application Boot Camp With A Friend” or my 1-on-1 services.