Former Penn Official: Admissions Practices at Elite Universities Hurt Asian Americans

Sara Harberson says "racial stereotyping, money, connections and athletics" can become determining factors.

A former admissions official at the University of Pennsylvania says the admissions practices of elite universities often discriminate against Asian Americans.

The charge was made in an L.A. Times op-ed today by Sara Harberson, identified as “the former associate dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania and the former dean of admissions and financial aid at Franklin & Marshall College” in Lancaster, Pa.

While Asian-Americans often meet the requirements for admission, she wrote, they often lack a “tag” that compels the university to admit them — and that instead “racial stereotyping, money, connections and athletics” often become determining factors.

A tag is the proverbial golden ticket for a student applying to an elite institution. A tag identifies a student as a high priority for the institution. Typically students with tags are recruited athletes, children of alumni, children of donors or potential donors, or students who are connected to the well connected. The lack of a tag can hinder an otherwise strong, high-achieving student. Asian American students typically don’t have these tags.

Asian Americans are rarely children of alumni at the Ivies, for example. There aren’t as many recruited athletes coming from the Asian American applicant pool. Nor are they typically earmarked as “actual” or “potential” donors. They simply don’t have long-standing connections to these institutions.

A spokesman for Penn did not offer comment on Harberson’s op-ed when contacted today.

Kate Carlisle, a spokeswoman for Franklin & Marshall College, gave Philly Mag the following statement on behalf of the university:

Sara Harberson was at Franklin & Marshall College for two years and has not worked at the College for five years; she does not speak for the College.

Racial biases and stereotypes have no role in our admissions and enrollment. In fact, Franklin & Marshall works to recruit and admit talented students from every community. We believe cultural diversity enhances the learning experience of all students, and we continue to seek out and invite talented students of all backgrounds to join our inclusive community.

Harberson now runs the subscription-based Admissions Revolution website that offers guidance to students seeking placement at elite universities.

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