According to a complaint against Harvard University, filed with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights by 64 organizations, published statistics on SAT test-scores show that on average, Asian-Americans must score 140 points higher than white applicants, 270 points higher than Hispanic applicants, and 450 points higher than African-American applicants, in order to gain admission to Harvard. Scoring is on a 2400-point scale.

According to data published by the National Center for Education Statistics and publicly available on numerous websites (including Forbes, About Education, etc.), the average SAT score of applicants admitted to the Ivy League as a whole is about 2190, with a low of 2120 (at Brown) and a high of approximately 2260 at the Big Three of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

What kind of SAT score would it take for a black applicant to get into Harvard? Subtract 450 from 2260, and you get 1810, 20% lower than the average for all applicants admitted to Harvard. To get into Brown, it probably takes less than 1700 for a black to be admitted! (Because these are averages and thus include all admits, the effective threshold scores are higher for all groups.)

Is 20% a big deal?   To find out, let’s compare the Ivy League averages to those at the lesser schools. Consider the Big Ten, a favorite “non-elite” conference: fourteen universities, mostly “state schools.”   Well, surprise: 1810 on the SAT may get you into Harvard if you are black, but if you are white, that score not only won’t get you into Harvard, it probably won’t even get you in at half of the schools in the Big Ten. You would be laughed out of the room at Northwestern (average 2185), Michigan (2030), Maryland (1945, extrapolated from a 1600 scale), Illinois (1975), and Wisconsin (1925); you would be a long shot even at Minnesota and Ohio State (each at 1855); and you might barely squeak into Penn State (1785).   In other words, out of the 14 Big Ten schools, you would find only 6 schools where your score was even above-average. Turns out Affirmative Action, “holistic” considerations, race-norming, and other diversity techniques make a huge difference.

The black students who apply to Harvard probably represent the best of the black student applicants, as even the most quota-conscious counselors would probably discourage a Harvard application by a student with SAT scores below 1810. But if you are a black applicant with an 1810, should you choose Harvard, knowing that your score is way below the scores of most of your classmates and, for that matter, below what it would take for a white applicant to be admitted to most Big Ten schools? Well, why not – at 1810, you are presumably smart enough to understand that, along with a valuable (if suspect) credential, you would probably get the same kind of favored treatment on college grading as you got on college admissions.

It was once thought that this country needed a Harvard, that we needed an elite university: the brightest faculty educating the brightest students, the ones most likely to go on to lead our nation to excellence.   But the numbers show that Harvard is not admitting the brightest students, because it is bumping a very large number of brighter applicants (including not just Asians) in favor of less-bright people. Argue as you wish, that a less-intelligent but more-diverse student body produces better leaders, but let’s be candid about the level of social engineering going on here.

The Ivy League has a sordid history of social engineering in its admissions processes, going back at least to Harvard’s determination, in 1922, that it had too many Jews. The Jewish quotas ended eventually (30 years later), but now Harvard and others are refreshing that tradition by determining not to have too many Asians –or too few blacks or Hispanics. And these social policies are called – apparently without ironic intent – “progressive.”


  1. Putting people in positions in which they will inevitably experience feelings of inferiority is a cruel idea. I’ve seen the results both as a lawyer active in the hiring process and as a law school professor .We are doing black and hispanic students no favor by putting them where they are not equipped to keep up.

  2. Whatever makes you think that SAT scores correlate directly with being the brightest student? I actually agree that doing this stuff by race does a disservice. It’s socio-economic factors that should be considered. I’m at Kenyon College. Kids growing up in fancy suburbs get 50 hours of training on taking those stupid tests. They also hire handlers to craft their essays and coach them on interviews beginning freshman year in high school. Not so much if you’re the son of a single mother on food stamps. You may be brighter– maybe even MUCH brighter– than that suburban kid, but you’d have no shot if Kenyon didn’t take into account your various very real disadvantages.

  3. Our elite universities worship at the altar of selective ethnic diversity. If only competition in the marketplace were so weighted, perhaps affirmative discrimination at elite university admissions would make more sense. In the end, do we engineer anything other than cynicism with such policies?

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