Getting Into the Ivies

David Leonhardt, New York Times, April 26, 2014

Ask just about any high school senior or junior–or their parents–and they’ll tell you that getting into a selective college is harder than it used to be. They’re right about that. But the reasons for the newfound difficulty are not well understood.


{snip} One overlooked factor is that top colleges are admitting fewer American students than they did a generation ago. Colleges have globalized over that time, deliberately increasing the share of their student bodies that come from overseas and leaving fewer slots for applicants from the United States.

For American teenagers, it really is harder to get into Harvard–or Yale, Stanford, Brown, Boston College or many other elite colleges–than it was when today’s 40-year-olds or 50-year-olds were applying. The number of spots filled by American students at Harvard, after adjusting for the size of the teenage population nationwide, has dropped 27 percent since 1994. At Yale and Dartmouth, the decline has been 24 percent. At Carleton, it’s 22 percent. At Notre Dame and Princeton, it is 14 percent.


This globalization obviously brings some big benefits. It has exposed American students to perspectives that our proudly parochial country often does not provide in childhood. “It would be a lesser education for them if they didn’t get a chance to interact with some international students,” as William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard since 1986, told me. The trend also fits with the long American tradition of luring some of the world’s most talented people here. Many international students who come for college never leave. Some of them found companies or make other contributions to society.

Yet the way in which American colleges have globalized comes with costs, too. For one thing, the rise in foreign students has complicated the colleges’ stated efforts to make their classes more economically diverse. Foreign students often receive scant financial aid and tend to be from well-off families. For another thing, the country’s most selective colleges have effectively shrunk as far as American students are concerned, during the same span that many students and their parents are spending more time obsessing over getting into one.

Many numbers for individual colleges here come from Noodle, a company that provides advice on education decisions. I combined the numbers with census data on the number of 18- to 21-year-olds in the United States to examine what share of college-age Americans in four different years–1984, 1994, 2004 and 2012–were attending various elite colleges.

The share for any individual college is minuscule, of course. In 2012, about 33 out of every 100,000 American 18- to 21-year-olds were attending Harvard, down from 45 per 100,000 in 1994. These changes in the share tell you how much harder, or easier, admission has become for American teenagers on average. Between 1984 and 1994, it became easier at many colleges. The college-age population in this country fell during that time to 14.1 million in 1994 from 16.5 million in 1984, and the number of foreign students was relatively stable.

{snip} By the 2000s, the so-called echo boom in births had increased the number of college-age Americans. It reached 17.9 million in 2012. The number of foreign students was growing at the same time. They now constitute close to 10 percent of the student body at many selective colleges, nearly double the level of the early 1990s.


And there is still scant evidence that the selectivity of the college one attends matters much. Students with similar SAT scores who attended colleges of different selectivity–say, Penn and Penn State–had statistically identical incomes in later years, according to research by the economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger.

There was one exception, though: low-income students, who did seem to benefit from attending an elite college. Maybe they benefited more from the social contacts they made there or were more likely to drop out if they did not attend a top college.

Either way, the research underscores a problem with the way colleges have globalized. With only a handful of exceptions (including Harvard, Amherst, M.I.T. and Yale), colleges have not tried hard to recruit an economically diverse group of foreign students. The students instead have become a revenue source.


In recent years, college administrators have repeatedly claimed that enrolling a more economically diverse group of students is a top priority. But their actions don’t always match their words. While some have made progress, the students at many remain overwhelmingly affluent. On average, about 15 percent of students at elite colleges receive Pell grants, which as a rule of thumb go to students in the bottom half of the income distribution.

Foreign students–typically well-off ones–have become another group that college admissions offices have decided should be well represented in every freshman class, along with “legacy” applicants (the children of alumni), varsity athletes and underrepresented minorities. A large fraction of these groups comes from high-income families. And all of them, along now with students from around the world, are a higher priority for colleges than poor students.

Low-income applicants are left to compete for the remaining slots with applicants who have the highest test scores, most impressive extracurricular activities and most eloquent essays.


Topics: ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • Puggg

    It has exposed American students to perspectives that our proudly parochial country often does not provide in childhood.

    Be happy that they’ve come here and given us backwards untouchables some culture, because without them we wouldn’t be anything or know anything.

    • Pro_Whitey

      Yeah, we really learn so much from those Pakis. However, note that they do not indicate the distribution of the origin of the foreigners. I’m guessing a lot from Israel.

  • As a professor I interacted with international students quite frequently. They had NOTHING to offer me. In fact, they were often a pain in the a**.

    Mexico and latin america–offered me bribe money for grades. My response: FU. I should have reported them, but didn’t. Just as well. The Mexican administrators would have blamed me.

    Japan–not all asians are smart

    China–corrupt in a variety of ways; always imitating American culture

    Vietnam–forget it

    Sweden–white male; now we’re talking hard worker and initiative

    India–good technical skills, but annoying; I think they admire Americans and that makes them pushy to get to know you; I have no issues with them except that pushiness

    Russians–liars and corrupt

    Czech–willing to screw you for grades; go away b-word

    • ncpride

      Well, one thing I can attest to personally is that Russians make excellent nurses, and nurses aids. I was laid up in the hospital for 9 days last month, and much to my surprise, ALL my nurses were from Russia for the first 4 days or so. I had no idea there were so many in our area. They were the most attentive, caring, warmest nurses I had the whole time. I’ve always heard Russians stereotyped as ‘cold’, but these women were anything but.

      • dd121

        Most of the nurses I see are fat black women with an attitude.

        • ncpride

          It’s so funny you should say that because I got stuck with one of those for two days straight. The thing that irked me the most about her was she was so annoyingly, incredibly LOUD. I seriously believe the only thing that kept me from losing my cool with her was the fact that I was pumped so full of narcotics. I remember cringing every time she came in the room. And to be fair to White American nurses, they were pretty awesome as well.

          • fuzzypook

            When my mother was in the hospital she had a fat nasty boon for a nurses aid. She was callous and close to abusive. My sister in law who is a nurse, told us that we could request that she not attend my mother. That is what we did. Remember that should you find yourself in the hospital again. You do not have to suffer abuse from diversity.

    • saxonsun

      I had a Russian student who told me that her own people were pigs. She said she was ashamed of them. She said they come here to take, take and take and they laugh at the generous American people. The Russians are known for this behavior. My sister worked at a medical clinic with lots of Russian patients. She said they always expected and demanded that the employees get them cabs. Her response was “you’re not in Russia anymore where the state did things for you. Get your own damn cab.”

  • IstvanIN

    Follow the money.

  • borogirl54

    A lot of these schools are have been recruiting wealthy Chinese students, whose parents can pay cash for their tuition.

  • So CAL Snowman

    “This globalization obviously brings some big benefits. It has exposed
    American students to perspectives that our proudly parochial country
    often does not provide in childhood.”

    You have got to be kidding me with this one. The academics do nothing but fall all over themselves promoting multiculturalism and White guilt to American students. Every single global culture is encouraged and given value by the media except for White American and European culture. We have celebrations for Chinese New Year, Cinco De Mayo, MLK, Passover, Ramadan, Kwanza, etc. The only perspective that American students do not receive is the White male perspective.

  • [Guest]

    >>>This globalization obviously brings some big benefits.

    We hear exclusively about these heaps of wonderful and supposedly obvious benefits to the exclusion of the dark side, which is very dark indeed.

    By the way, when the “New York Times” refers to American students, it’s including in that number a regular rainbow of diversity, isn’t it? A lot of them are American the way Meb Keflezighi is the first American in years to win the Boston Marathon, right?

  • willbest

    Foreigners in the Ivies is their business (assuming they want to give up Fed money). Its the state universities that are telling residents to pound sand blows my mind.

  • John

    Obviously, there are some theological considerations at play that the article completely ignores.

    • Pro_Whitey

      Those who once demanded “meritocracy” (smarts do not necessarily equal merit), are now comfortable demanding legacy appointments that they once decried. The Ivy Leagues were at their best when they were finishing schools for our WASP elites.

      • Strike_Team

        Once again, it’s a good time to point out the research done by Ron Unz (who is Jewish) and Prof. Kevin MacDonald regarding admissions to the Ivies – and to almost all “prestigious” colleges and universities across the former U.S..

        Jews used to study, work hard, get great grades and have high test scores. They no longer do. They no longer have to. Legacy admissions, race-based admission, dad paying off the admissions staff (ever hear of the “Harvard number” among other similar scams?) and more have allowed this “2%” of the population to stuff these schools with their children. One wonders how a group that claims to be only 2% has enough children to fill as many seats in the schools as they do, and that number seems to grow each year.

        That said, the Jews have used their admittance numbers as a twisted weapon against whites. Their kids are counted as white when Asians moan about being kept out by less qualified students – pointing at blacks, hispanics, and the “white” kids with less than stellar grades and scores. But those white kids they are pointing at are almost all Jews. It is out of control and getting worse.

        Besides Jews nabbing huge numbers of undeserved seats, the AA policies in place to help flotillas of black and hispanic “scholars” get undeserved degrees from prestigious (in name only) universities, also serve to keep deserving whites out. As does the admittance of foreign students, most of them non-white. The universities can usually count on the governments of the lands these wonderful people to pay the staggeringly high costs of what used to be a top tier educational experience.

        This entire situation was designed with the full intent of keeping whites out of schools, especially white males.

        People should take the time to look up the material gathered by Unz and MacDonald. Unz of course backed off a little bit on the barbs directed at his own, but the genie was out of the bottle. What the folks in charge want is some way, any way, to keep whites out, period. Affirmative Action, foreigners, and of course their own ethnic networking have done a very good job in helping them get close to achieving their ultimate goal; universities filled with everything but whites of European stock. Or maybe they’ll let a few white girls in, to be shiksa prey for the self chosen, the Africans, the hispanics, and whatever else ends up roaming these campuses.

      • Mrfinoni

        The Wasp elites have abandoned their own people in favor of globalism.

  • FeuerSalamander

    These institutions are committing treason, and they are doing it for money. They are taking the cash rich foreigners over American students who may need financial aid. Cash rich foreigners, from wealthy families, do not just pay more tuition, they also tend to make more donations later on, and their family is more likely to make “gifts” to the university in order to get a slow, less intelligent child into the university in the first place. In other words, they are taking BRIBES!

  • It’s even worse than this. Look up the Espenshade-Radford study about Ivy league admissions. It’s not just that “Americans” are finding it harder to get into the Ivies. It’s that non-Jewish white students who don’t have some sort of legacy hook and whose activities are “proletarian” thinks like 4-H, FFA, ROTC have very low odds to get in.

    • Strike_Team

      It’s even worse than that. And as pointed out by “Yggdrasil” years ago, the Ivy League schools hate whites from the big cities, because the folks in charge know that these kids, no matter what brain-washing they’ve received, might be too aware of certain racial realities, having “seen things” while growing up.

      • Person of Whiteness

        It’s not even speculative. There are studies that show that White kids in schools with more blacks tend to have lower opinions of blacks.

  • Mrfinoni

    The elite schools have become a place for the children of the global elite to network, including a percentage of American Black underclass. This is what the British and the French did for centuries when they ran their colonies. They needed an elite middle class from the host country to make it feasible. With global economics their is no loyalty to nationhood but the future leaders need to make business contacts.

  • tevra

    60 years old and one of the few from my generation free of bigotry BECAUSE I went to school with blacks, Asians, Mexicans and Native Americans. my best friend was Native American..we didn’t have that term yet we still said Indian…my first girl friends were Black, Mexican and Japanese and I eventually married a Korean. I am sad to say that some of my relatives of all ages who went to white only schools are quite racist but I am not the only one in the family in what was once called a “mixed marriage” which is the future of the world…….one day there will be only one race and we will all be a shade of tan…something like Philippines.

  • tevra

    it was unthinkable not long ago to hear people talk about “Jews” like this in public unless it was at a rally for Der Fuhrer.