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Elisabeth McLaughlin / Columbia Daily Spectator

Both nationally and on campus, admissions to elite institutions has faced increased scrutiny in the past months.

This past admissions cycle, a record-high 42,569 applicants hoped to be part of the 5.1 percent that would receive an acceptance to Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions prioritizes a holistic selection—admitting talented, well-rounded students into the Columbia community. But amid national news of admissions scandals and affirmative action lawsuits, questions continue to arise regarding the fairness of the college admissions process.

Of course, not all college applicants are created equal: Some have famously used their socioeconomic status to increase their chances of admission.

Recently, the admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues exposed elaborate thousand-dollar schemes to inflate standardized test scores and bribe college officials. While Columbia was not included in the list of prestigious universities involved in the scandal, the scheme prompted discussion about the use of private college consulting and entrance exam prep to increase an applicant’s eligibility for a hefty price tag.

On the opposite extreme, admission is especially elusive for those who cannot afford these privileges, leading some to believe they don’t belong at Columbia.

An investigation by Spectator last fall highlighted the disparity between different applicants’ exposure to Columbia and how it affected their decision to apply. Whereas wealthy, competitive, and often independent schools are visited by representatives from competitive colleges, 22 of 30 New York City public high school guidance counselors interviewed said they did not recall Columbia holding an information session at their school in the past year.

As a result, a college counselor from a public high school in Queens said she often must “beg and plead” with her students to apply to elite institutions, because these students don’t believe they have a good chance of being admitted.

Despite the obstacles that have historically barred low-income groups and racial minorities from educational access, cases such as Students For Fair Admissions vs. Harvard have raised questions about the role that race should play in college admissions. Amid the national conversation surrounding affirmative action, University President Lee Bollinger has also spoken publicly about challenges to affirmative action at the federal level, which pose a threat to policies that look to foster diversity on campus.

With all eyes on socioeconomic diversity of college campuses, Spectator’s coverage will follow the University-wide and national conversations that influence the makeup of the Columbia community.

Staff writer Emma James can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter at @emmawolfjames.

Admissions rate Admissions scandal Affirmative action
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