Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How do you get into Harvard? For the lucky few, there’s the Z list

More Harvard corruption

Getting into Harvard requires top grades, impressive extracurricular pursuits, and a dynamic personality. But there’s another way in: the Z list. Never heard of it? That’s generally the way Harvard likes to keep it.

But according to filings in the recent affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard, the university’s records show that every year about 60 students — mostly white and well-connected — enter Harvard through what is called the Z list. There’s a catch, though: These applicants are required to defer the start of college for a year.

Universities across the country have their admissions lists, rejection lists, and waitlists, but Harvard’s end-of-the-admissions-line Z list is a place of both purgatory and privilege. And it holds a rare spot in higher education, college experts say.

Few colleges and universities offer an option for students who may have missed the cut for regular admission to the freshman class but have enough pull or potential to earn a place in the next year’s class. And if they do, they’re keeping mum.

Harvard’s own Z list has, for decades, been shrouded in secrecy.

“I have heard of the Z list, but I don’t know much about it, and I’m not really sure who does . . . and would divulge,” said Allison Matlack, a private college counselor based in Needham, echoing the sentiment of many other admissions experts.

But the lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions that claims Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants is drawing back the curtain on the Z list and raising questions about whether it should even exist.

According to five years of admissions data and internal e-mails and documents that Harvard had to provide Students for Fair Admissions for the court case, about 50 to 60 students in the college’s freshman class of more than 1,600 students enter through the Z list process.

They are predominantly (70 percent) white students, and nearly half have parents who attended Harvard. Just a few are economically disadvantaged, and nearly 60 percent are drawn from a special list kept by the dean that includes children of significant donors and potential donors. As a group, their test scores and academic records fall somewhere in between students who were rejected from Harvard and those who got in.

Even in court documents, Harvard skirts the term Z list, referring to the practice as “deferred admission,” instead. Harvard’s foes have no such qualms in their legal filings.

Harvard declined to answer specific questions about the Z list, but university officials cited previous reports by the college that suggest legacy admissions is a way to foster a stronger loyalty and community among alumni and further grow the school’s vast-by-any-measure $37 billion endowment. Harvard’s admissions officials believe these students can benefit from a gap year as an opportunity to grow and mature.

Still, Harvard’s eminence and its reluctance to talk explicitly about the Z list — who gets selected, how they’re picked, even how the list earned its name — has made it the stuff of lore.

‘I’m happy for any way a kid can get to go to a dream school.’

It’s not detailed on Harvard’s admissions website, and Internet chat boards are filled with rumors and anonymous tidbits about this admissions quirk. It’s been mentioned in just a handful of articles in Harvard’s student newspaper, The Crimson, and in Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Daniel Golden’s book “The Price of Admission.”

“Can someone tell me what a ‘Z’ list is in this case? I know what a Z-list celebrity is, but not this,” a Washington, D.C., parent posted on an online discussion board last year.

“What happens after not taking off wait list? Does this secret process Z list happen? How would we know if offered Z list?” another person posted on the College Confidential website.

“Do you request? Or would you get a call or e-mail?” another curious poster asked.

At Harvard, which zealously guards its admissions formula, the Z list (supposedly named by a lower-level worker in the admissions office for the last group of students admitted, according to The Crimson) may be among its most impenetrable practices.

However, the legal filings in the US District Court case confirm what many Internet posters and college experts have long suspected about the Z list.

It’s a backdoor channel to get into Harvard, said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who is an expert witness for Students for Fair Admissions.

“Eliminating this preferential program for largely white, wealthy, and well-connected students would be an important way to increase Harvard’s racial and socioeconomic diversity,” Kahlenberg said.

Harvard in its filings disagrees that eliminating the Z list would improve diversity. In fact in court documents, Harvard argues that dropping race-conscious admissions, the Z list, and practices common to many schools, such as, giving advantages to children of alumni and donors, and recruited athletes, would reduce the number of African-American and Hispanic students by half.

Harvard looks at multiple factors in offering admissions, officials said in a statement.

“Harvard College is committed to admitting a freshman class that is diverse on multiple dimensions, from its capacity for academic excellence to its ability to help create a campus community that gives each student the opportunity to learn from peers with a wide variety of academic interests, perspectives, and talents,” said Rachael Dane, a Harvard spokeswoman.

Harvard may be reluctant to end the Z list for other reasons, too.

The Z list is a way for Harvard to keep its alumni and donors happy while maintaining its reputation as a highly selective college, said Bev Taylor, the founder of New York-based Ivy Coach.

A handful of students that Taylor has counseled through the admissions process have gotten into Harvard through the Z list. All had some legacy connection to Harvard and families willing to donate to the school — anywhere from $1 million over four years to several millions — Taylor said.

And though Harvard’s offer came late in the admissions process and the gap year wasn’t always planned, most students accepted the conditions. They traveled, participated in gap-year programs, or worked for their parents’ companies, she said.

One student rejected the offer and went to Yale University instead, concerned that he would be at loose ends with the year off, Taylor said.

“We were thrilled they had that avenue,” Taylor said of the Z list. “I’m happy for any way a kid can get to go to a dream school.”

Other Ivy League institutions, such as Brown University and Princeton University, said they do not have a deferred admission program such as Harvard’s Z list. Cornell University for the past 30 years has offered some rejected high school seniors a chance to transfer to the campus in the following year, after they complete their freshman year at another school and earn satisfactory grades. About a quarter of Cornell’s approximately 750 annual transfer students come through the program, but it has no relation to donor or legacy status, said John Carberry, a university spokesman.

Harvard’s Z list is such an anomaly that some students sometimes wonder if it’s a prank.

“Funnily enough, I turned down the call from an unknown Cambridge number,” a student, who was accepted onto Harvard’s Z list, posted on Reddit a few months ago. The student acknowledged that his mother had gone to Harvard and given the college some money.

Idabelle Paterson, 19, from Connecticut had never heard about the Z list until she got the call from Harvard’s admissions office while in gym class last year. Paterson said she isn’t sure why she made the list, since nobody in her family attended Harvard and she doesn’t know anybody who gave to the university.

“It was so terrifying and exciting and shocking,” said Paterson who just finished up her gap year and is planning to attend Harvard in the fall. She had already committed to Johns Hopkins University when she got her phone call from Harvard. She had two weeks to decide.

Paterson said she has spent the year interning at a museum, traveling to New Zealand for a month, waitressing, and attending Harvard’s archeological field school program abroad. The gap year helped her learn to be independent, she said.

But she sometimes worried about how it might affect her place among the men and women of Harvard, she said.

“I did struggle with the feeling that I hadn’t truly gotten in, that I was not qualified enough, that I was not as legitimate as everyone else who got in,” Paterson said. “Now I know that I got there the same as anyone else, just via a slightly longer and less common path.”


Scotland: Language courses at risk amid staff shortage

With weeks to go until lectures begin, some modern language courses for teachers at leading universities are half empty. There is already a widespread recruitment crisis in the profession.

At the University of the West of Scotland only 11 of 20 places for one-year postgraduate teacher training courses in modern languages in secondary schools had been filled by mid-July.

Of 22 places at the University of Edinburgh, only eight had been taken. The University of Aberdeen filled its places, but it offered only seven.

For the primary school English and Gaelic teaching course at the University of Highlands and Islands, 59 students had been secured against a target of 84.

The figures are not final and may change if students apply late or change their minds about taking the courses, but the sector is not expecting to hit targets for language teachers this year.

A spokesman for the University of the West of Scotland said: “At this stage, and in line with the rest of the sector, we do anticipate that we may be under target for modern languages.”

There are already significantly fewer language teachers than there were a decade ago, despite head teachers being expected to deliver an ambitious plan in which pupils have the chance to learn two additional languages. There were 722 French teachers last year, compared with 1070 in 2008. Over the same period the number of German teachers has almost halved, to 100. The number of Spanish teachers has increased from 64 to 107.

The number of pupils taking languages in schools has plummeted. In 2007 there were more than 56,000 pupils taking modern languages at Standard Grade level. By 2016, under the new exam system, this had fallen to just over 23,000. Critics have blamed teacher shortages for limits to the numbers of subjects being offered in schools.

Iain Gray, education spokesman for Scottish Labour, said: “With fewer young people studying modern languages, fewer people are doing it at university and therefore fewer people are available to teach it. It is a vicious circle that will damage Scotland’s economic future. We have already seen the impact in the shape of plummeting modern language qualifications. The SNP government must urgently review these figures and ensure everything possible is being done to recruit and retain modern languages teachers.”

A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “Teacher numbers — including secondary teachers — are increasing, and the ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2010. We have also increased student teacher intake targets for the seventh year in a row and are setting targets to train teachers in the subjects where they are needed most.

“Our ambition is to expand and improve learning and teaching in modern languages and STEM learning so that young people are equipped with the skills they need in an increasingly globalised world.”


Australia: Why students aren’t prepared for life after school

THERE’S a point in adulthood where many of us step back and go, “Christ, I am not prepared for any of this.”

And a lot of it falls on our schooling. We spent years learning to measure the angles of a triangle, but navigating our taxes remains a nightmare. We memorised quotes from every Shakespearean tragedy ever written, but networking events can put the fear of God in us.

The narrative goes that if you study hard, get high scores and land a spot at a good university, you’ll breeze into a decent job.

But worrying research shows this is definitely not the case — and it’s the next generation of workers that face a big struggle.


Concerning new research has found students are not adequately equipped to brave the workforce, due to an emphasis on school tests like NAPLAN and the ATAR results.

The Mitchell Institute report stresses the importance of teaching about life after school, saying “trade-offs within the curriculum will be necessary”.

The report suggested a key issue was focusing on scores that could be numerically measured, like the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) tests, rather than the workplace.

“Narrow proxy measures of academic achievement are made a priority — as demonstrated by the emphasis that many schools place on lifting NAPLAN results and Australian Tertiary ATARs.”

As a result, many young people are disengaging from learning, and failing to hone the life skills necessary for the world outside of school.

News.com.au approached around a dozen university students to ask what they wish they’d learnt in high school.

Lazarus, 23, who is studying a Master of Physiotherapy at the University of Technology, Sydney, said he wished he had learnt more about networking, and knowing the right way to approach prospective employers.

His friend Daniel, doing the same degree, added that he wished he’d been taught how to finetune resumes before starting university.

While most students felt confident doing their taxes, they said “money management” was a big thing they wish they knew, including how to save and what to invest in.

Mitchell Institute Policy Analyst Kate Torii stresses the importance of learning “real world” skills like networking.

“Exposure to the world of work provides opportunities for students to build connections with professionals outside their usual family networks, and to learn by “doing” in real world contexts,” she wrote in The Conversation.

“This offers some valuable benefits — enriching school learning, building students’ employability, and helping them develop the capabilities (such as problem solving, collaboration, and resilience) that we know are valued in work and life.”


This isn’t the first report to address concerns about how we’re failing our students.

Last month, research by Year13 found high school students were focused on picking subjects as a means of maximising their ATAR score — at the expense of expanding their skill sets.

Saxon Phipps, founder and director of Year13, told news.com.au young people believe they can gain a higher ATAR result by choosing easier subjects.

For example, a student who should be doing Extension Mathematics might do the easier General course as a means of scoring higher in that subject.

“There’s a huge societal pressure,” he said. “Even if they don’t use their ATAR score, they’re doing it for the glory that comes with a higher mark.”

In addition to contributing to mental health issues, this meant students weren’t adequately prepared for the outside world upon graduating high school.

And to what benefit? The university dropout rate is higher than ever, with recent Federal Government figures showing that students packing in their degrees has reached its highest levels in a decade.

At the same time, only 71 per cent of graduates were able to secure a job straight out of university, while almost 15 per cent were still unemployed four years after graduating.

In 1986, it took university graduates an average of one year to gain full-time employment. It now takes almost five years.

Earlier this year, Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel called for a broader discussion into how the skills students learnt in school could be applied to real life when they graduated.

“The total percentage of people studying advanced mathematics has almost halved between 1992 and 2012, from 16 to 9 per cent,” Dr Finkel told news.com.au. “Maths in particular is a core enabler of all STEM subjects. It’s the language of science.

“There could be some misinterpretation here, but it seems kids are consistently being told to pick subjects that maximise their ATAR rankings.”

He also said every single parent, teacher, student and careers adviser needed to at least understand how the ATAR system worked.

“We want young people to study the most advanced studies they’re capable of, and for the doors of opportunity to remain open,” Dr Finkel said.

“Every time a kid gets the wrong message, that door slams shut.”

A review of the curriculum is expected by 2020.


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