NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 29, 2005

College admissions requirements have gone through profound changes over the decades, and they are described by University of California-Berkeley professor Jerome Karabel in "The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton."

According to Karabel:

  • Until the 1920s, Harvard, Yale and Princeton's admission criteria were based almost entirely on academics, regardless of social background.
  • After World War II, however, administrators were concerned that admissions based just on scholastic achievement would bring too many Jews of eastern European origin into the universities and lead to the departure of Gentiles.

As a result, admissions became based not only on academic achievement, but also attributes such as "character," "manliness" and "leadership." Hence, today's photos, interviews and recommendation letters are rooted in this period of change.

In fact, on the eve of President John F. Kennedy's election, says Karabel:

  • All three schools had less than 1 percent black students; at Princeton, just one African-American was enrolled out of 826 students.
  • Harvard rejected three-quarters of applicants from the mainly Jewish Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School while Yale limited Jewish students to one-eighth of the freshman class.

However, as federal money flowed to institutions in the 1960s and 1970s, and the civil rights era began, the Big Three became less dependent on alumni contributions. By the 1970s, admissions had become "need-blind," with no discrimination against women or Jews, and special considerations for historically underrepresented minorities.

Source: Michiko Kakutani, "The Course of Social Change Through College Admissions," New York Times, November 25, 2005; Jerome Karabel, "The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton," Houghton Mifflin: 2005.

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