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Lawsuit: Harvard Admissions Gave Asian Americans Low Personality Scores

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 18, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's hard to say that Harvard is being dumb.

But it is dumb to screen out students based on likability, isn't it? That's like high school popularity contest dumb.

According to a lawsuit based on extensive research, however, Harvard lowered the number of Asian-American admittees by giving them lower ratings for likability and other personality traits.

Low Likability

It's not so surprising that Asian-Americans, as a group, scored the highest on academics in a review of more than 160,000 applicants. Asian-Americans comprise less than 6 percent of the U.S. population, and comprise about 23 percent of Harvard's students.

But it is surprising that Harvard winnowed-out some of the highest-scoring students based on low ratings for being likable, funny, helpful, and otherwise being a "good person."

If these were law school applicants, anti-social behavior might be expected. But seriously, aren't STEM students supposed to be serious?

Harvard, according to the Boston Globe, says there is nothing wrong with its admission policies so long as they are fair. Officials claim the admissions rate for Asian-Americans there has grown by 29 percent in the past decade.

More Than Scores

Anna Cowenhoven, a spokeswoman for the university, said the lawsuit used "incomplete and misleading data analysis." She said the school has a "whole-person" admission process.

Nearly 40,000 students apply for 1,600 seats annually, and the school doesn't rely on academics alone to evaluate applicants. Some 13 percent of domestic applicants had perfect SAT scores for math, and 30 percent had perfect GPAs.

Jon Boeckenstedt, an associate vice president at DePaul University, said Harvard isn't the only university to consider personality during admissions.

"When a university is very selective, they don't want just A-students with high test scores," he said. "They want an interesting community. They are trying to impose a different sorting mechanism, because everybody looks alike."

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