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The Truth About Affirmative Action for Men

In 2006, Kenyon College’s Dean of Admissions, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, wrote a New York Times editorial apologizing “To All The Girls I’ve Rejected”—those female Kenyon applicants who were denied admission in favor of what are now considered rare and valuable male applicants.

Since then, the ratio of female students in applicant pools has only gotten bigger. A recent article on NYTimes.com stated that for every 100 American women enrolled in college, there are only 77 men. With colleges becoming increasingly concerned about gender balance on campus, has this really led to preferential treatment for men?

The Dilemma of Balance
Generally, there are more female applicants than male applicants applying each year to the colleges and universities around the United States. Plus, individual schools within a college usually have a higher ratio of female to male applicants. To maintain a gender balance on campus, admissions officers must admit a balanced ratio of women and men. With a more limited pool of male applicants to draw from though, some schools are admitting male applicants over women who have higher test scores, higher GPAs, or more extracurricular achievements. Parents of qualified female applicants have cried out in protest—is maintaining an even ratio really worth rejecting their daughters? Schools seem to think so, and many have claimed that when a college becomes too heavily saturated with one gender, both male and female students begin to apply elsewhere.

However, many experts claim that though the gender imbalance affects students’ social lives, it doesn’t impact their academic experience—the primary reason they’re at college. In fact, the research of one UCLA professor showed that on campuses with a majority of female students, the grades of both men and women were higher.

Others insist that a balanced campus is a diverse campus, and intellectual discussions should include equal input from both male and female points of view. Furthermore, a balanced campus is generally seen as more appealing and can increase a school’s selectivity.

Which is exactly what happened at Dickinson College. After a successful campaign to attract more male applicants by emphasizing its sports and science and business curricula, Dickinson’s total applicant pool grew. As a result, Dickinson was able to be more selective about its admitted class. The academic quality of the student body rose, as did average SAT scores (high school males tend to score slightly higher on the SAT).

Gender Imbalance Depends on the School
Highly selective institutions like Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Princeton do not lack qualified male applicants, simply because their applicant pools are so massive. As a result, their admitted classes balance themselves without sacrificing the quality of students. However, of those schools, Yale has the widest disparity. In 2007 they offered acceptance letters to 9.8 percent of men and 7.5 percent of women, despite there being more female applicants. Yale however, says that gender holds no weight in the admissions process. Harvard, on the other hand, has seen more male than female applicants in the past few years, and since 1973 (the year they went co-ed), has had a gender-blind admissions policy.

Public institutions also remain mostly unaffected. In 1992, Title IX was signed into law, stipulating that public institutions cannot discriminate by gender, and that includes everything from sports to admissions.

Schools that do tend to admit a greater percentage of male applicants include historically female schools like University of Richmond, Vassar, Skidmore, and liberal arts schools like Pomona, Swarthmore, and the College of William and Mary.

What Colleges Are Saying

Yale University:
“We make no explicit effort of any kind, whether before, during or at the close of the selection process to influence or adjust the overall gender ratio of the students we admit.”
– Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel, written statement quoted in the Yale Daily News

Brown University:
“There’s no expectation were going to have a quota or balanced gender in the college. No one has ever said to me … ‘we need to be fifty-fifty.’”
– Dean of Admissions James Miller, in the Brown Spectator

Williams College:
“If we got to 60–40, that would set off some alarm bells because we would like to have a 50–50 split.”
– Admissions Director Richard Nesbitt, in The Weekly Standard

University of Richmond:
“The board of trustees has said that the admissions office can go as far as 55-45 [Women to men]. Male and female applicants to the school have test scores that are virtually the same. Was their [male applicants’] high school GPA a little lower? Perhaps.”
–Senior Associate Director of Admissions Marilyn Hesser, on CBS News

How You Can Use This To Your Advantage

If you’re a girl..

Expand your college list: look beyond small liberal arts colleges. A college counselor can suggest schools where the ratio is in your favor. For example, in 2007 the acceptance rate at MIT was nearly 26 percent for women and 10 percent for men. Though females who apply to MIT tend to be extremely strong candidates, if you’re interested in science, math or engineering you might have a better shot than you think at getting into that highly selective school.

Mind your major: research schools to find their newest majors, minors, or study-abroad programs. Express interest—colleges may be recruiting participants specifically for these programs.

Use your application: lots of demographic factors can be oversaturated in application pools, so use your essays to show how you’re unique. Personal stories or an individual writing style can remind them you’re more than just another girl.

If you’re a boy..

Remind them you’re a guy: attaching a photo to your application can remind the admissions team that you’re part of a valued demographic.

Expand your college list: look to schools that were historically female or liberal arts colleges, and see if they have majors/programs that interest you. Many of these colleges are eager to enroll more male students.

Learn from the ladies: there are more qualified females in application pools because girls tend to commit to activities, demonstrate leadership, and begin their college search and applications earlier. Ryan Munce, vice president of the National Research Center for College and University Admissions says, “If [Yale’s] numbers say anything, it is that there are more female students that are willing to go through the work of applying to Yale as a reach school than there are men that are willing to take that risk,” So guys, take note and do the same!

Hopefully, you’ve been busy the past few months, researching colleges, creating and finalizing a balanced college list. Now that you’ve narrowed down the list of schools to which you will apply, it’s time to create your application strategy – deciding when and how you will apply.

Throughout your research, you’ve likely come across terms such as Early Decision, Early Action, and Rolling Admission, among others. These are application options that differ based on the application deadline, response date, and your commitment to attend the school, if accepted. It is important for students to understand the different application plans, the potential outcomes, and the choices that are available. Feeling overwhelmed? The expert counselors at IvyWise have compiled a quick list of the different application options:

Early Options
Does the early bird really get the worm? Usually, but it depends. While there can be an advantage to applying early, you should only apply early if you’re ready. Being ready means you have visited and researched your school(s) extensively, your grades through junior year are indicative of who you are as a student, you have taken all necessary standardized tests (and do not plan to retake them), and you have completed all application components, including essays. The following early options may be offered:

Early Decision (ED)

Application due: The application and all supporting documents must be submitted early in November, usually between November 1 and 15 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about ED decisions in December.

Early Decision is ideal for students who have identified a college as a definite first choice.We encourage students to apply Early Decision only if they are ready and if they will definitely enroll if accepted. You may only apply to one school ED and the application is binding; if a student is accepted under ED, he or she must withdraw all applications to other schools and he or she is committed to attending that school. Dr. Kat says that by applying ED, the student is “essentially telling the college that it is your first choice; and you may be rewarded by a higher admit rate during this period.”

Because of the ED application deadlines, junior year grades are extremely important for ED applicants. However, first semester senior grades are often submitted later on as well. Watch out; don’t start slacking off second semester senior year, as schools can rescind their offers! [AW ONLY: If you are looking for the best financial aid offer, ED may not be the plan for you. You do not have the flexibility to compare financial aid packages and must accept the financial aid offered by the ED school.]

Early Decision II (ED II)

Application due: Usually between January 1 and February 1 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about ED II decisions in March.

Some universities provide two ED dates; the second date is for students who are sure about the school being their first choice, but aren’t ready to apply by the November deadline, or for students who were denied from an ED school. This is often called ED II and these deadlines are usually closer to the RD deadline. Like ED, ED II applications are binding, and students may have an advantage by submitting an ED II application. Because students are committed to attend if accepted, the college can more easily determine their yield. Bowdoin College, Tufts University, and Pomona College are some example of schools that offer the ED II option.

Early Action (EA)

Application due: The application and all supporting documents must be submitted early in November, usually between November 1 and 15 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about EA decisions in December.

EA is similar to ED but you are not required to attend the school if accepted. This option is great for students who have decided their EA school is one of their top choice schools (if not their number one), and they are ready to apply, but do not want to be obligated to attend the school if accepted. Like ED applicants, EA applicants receive acceptance decisions in December, though have until May 1 to decide if they will enroll. You can apply to more than one EA school, even if you are also applying ED to another university. Some schools with EA plans include University of Chicago, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and MIT.

Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Restricted Early Action

Application due: The application and all supporting documents must be submitted early in November, usually between November 1 and 15 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about SCEA decisions in December.

SCEA is similar to EA in that you are not bound to attend if accepted. However, with the SCEA restriction, you cannot apply early to any other school, be it EA or ED, until you have heard back from your SCEA school. After you receive the school’s decision of acceptance, deferral, or denial, you may apply to other schools [AW ONLY: and compare financial aid offers] before deciding where to enroll by May 1. This is a good option for a student who is ready to apply to a school they really like but don’t necessarily want to be bound by the decision of the school. However, be sure you do not want to apply early elsewhere, as you will not be able to do so. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have SCEA or plans, while Boston College and Stanford University have Restrictive Early Action plans. Note: Boston College’s Restrictive Early Action Program permits candidates to apply to other Early Action programs, but not Early Decision programs.

Other Options

Regular Decision

Application due: Regular Decision applications and supporting documents must be submitted to the school by a set date in your senior year, which varies from November 30 to March 15. Applications to most selective schools are due January 1, 15, or February 15.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about Regular decisions by April 1.

Looking for some regularity? Regular Decision is one of the most common application options, as you can apply to as many schools as you want under this option. Once the college has received all applications, they are reviewed and all applicants are notified at the same time, during the spring of senior year. If accepted, you must notify the college by May 1 of your intent to accept or decline their office of admission. Applicants who are deferred in the early round will be reconsidered during the Regular Decision round. Regular Decision acceptances are non-binding, which means you can choose to enroll in that school or another school that has accepted you.

Rolling Admission (RA)

Application due: Usually anytime between September 1 and May 1, though it is best to send in your application as early as possible – in September or October of senior year – as RA schools continue to accept students until they reach their enrollment capacity.

Notification: Applicants are notified of admission decisions as soon as the file is complete (usually within weeks of receiving the application).

Looking forward to acceptance letters rolling in? Once the RA school receives your completed file, they immediately review and act on your application. The college generally notifies the applicant with an admissions decision within several weeks of receiving the application. Schools such as Rutgers University, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Tampa use rolling admissions.

IvyWise counselors help students craft a strategy to determine which application options they will use for each of the schools on their list. You should prioritize completing your standardized tests and finishing your essays based on those deadlines. You can find out your schools’ deadlines and policies by visiting the schools’ websites and reviewing the admissions page.

Best of luck from all of us at IvyWise!

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