Subjectivity & Objectivity

Harvard gathers data on applicants under the four headings viz., “growth and potential,” “interests and activities,” “character and personality,” and “contribution to the Harvard community”. The data are gathered from various questions in the application form and other means such as recommendation letters, support documents etc.

Admissions officers assess application material under four areas viz., academics, extracurricular, personal qualities, and athletics.  Each admissions officer makes a binary decision – the applications that pass the first hurdle will pass through the second reader and sometimes 3rd reader. In the final stage, entire admissions team votes for those applicants who have passed initial scrutiny.

The test scores are not the sole determinants and never a valid discriminant when all applicants are from the 99th percentile or above. Admissions officer’s decisions on academics, extracurricular, personal qualities, and athletics need not correlate with test scores. In fact, any parameter with high correlation with the test score is redundant and only those with low or negative correlations should matter.

East Asians & South East Asian applicants are better test takers and hence the deviation in admission decisions from the test score is naturally higher among this group. Therefore, the evidence of deviation from test score by itself should not prove discrimination. All that it says is that the Harvard’s admission goals differ with test scores. Yet, objective parameters such as test scores are easily understood by the public and in some cultures (such as Asian) are valued more than others. While Harvard may have a point, it has a responsibility towards educating public in general all over the globe that why high-test scores do not automatically result in admission and clearly articulate its  principles to aspiring young men and women in schools.