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As schools and testing centers shut down in spring 2020, it seemed only fair for colleges and universities to suspend ACT and SAT admissions requirements. A pandemic is as good a reason as any to change the rules.
Three years later, and months after the Covid-19 national emergency was declared over, 80 percent of colleges and universities are still following “test-optional” protocols. This trend has generally been celebrated by critics of the tests, who argue that the exams are inherently unfair due to the disproportionately large share of high scores among affluent test takers. However, in practice, the test-optional system is far more exclusionary than mandatory testing requirements ever were.
As the number of students applying to college has been increasing each year since 2019, college admittance is more competitive now than ever. Students with access to college counselors and test tutors (read: wealthier students) know this, and many are still using ACT and SAT exams to stand out.
Students with access to test tutors are aware that the eye of the admissions needle has narrowed, and they are being coached to use their test scores to thread it. As an SAT/ACT tutor in New York City for a tutoring company that charges over $200 an hour, I have worked with multiple students who are encouraged to retest even after scoring in the upper 1500s on the SAT or above a 34 on the ACT. Their parents can afford to provide them that extra boost.
Related: PROOF POINTS: Research on increasing diversity in college admissions
Meanwhile, with admission tests voluntary, low-income students tend to opt out. In its 2022 SAT annual report, the College Board reported that students from families earning less than $67,083 annually made up only 27 percent of test takers who reported their family income. Six years earlier, while tests were still mandatory for most college applications, students from families earning less than $60,001 made up a far-larger share: 43 percent of test takers. While the percentage of low-income test takers has radically fallen off, the opposite is true for wealthy students: In 2022, 57 percent of test takers who reported their families’ earnings were from households earning $83,766 or more. This is a jump from 46 percent of student test takers whose families earned $80,001 or more in 2016.
While teaching high school English at a Title III public school in Northern California after the SAT/ACT requirements had just been lifted in 2020, I noticed the morning prep period dedicated to SAT administration was known around campus as a great day to sleep in. There was little to no test prep offered to students, either.
Today, many of the students I tutor are brought to me via partnerships with some of New York City’s most elite and expensive private schools. They are prioritizing test prep as a method of differentiating their students in an overly competitive admissions field.
The glaringly unfair aspect of “test-optional” guidelines is that wealthy students know it’s a meaningless distinction; lower-income students with less access to college counselors, however, do not.
The biggest question here in terms of equity is whether colleges are following through on their pledges to deprioritize test scores in admissions. Are colleges being true to their word and not weighing test scores as highly as other metrics? Or are these tests more significant than schools are letting on?
It turns out that the “test-optional” stamp on most College Board applications may be extremely misleading. A 2019 pre-pandemic survey (the most accurate available) reported in the National Association for College Admission Counseling State of College Admissions found that 83 percent of colleges considered admission test scores to be of “considerable” or “moderate” importance. This was only a hair shy of the 90 percent of schools that considered grades influential toward admittance, and significantly higher than the 56 percent of universities that considered writing samples important. While the post-pandemic test-optional guidelines may have diminished the relevance of scores, the question is whether or not that diminished relevancy is more policy than practice.
The bottom line is: Colleges are looking at ACT and SAT scores. Opting out of the tests in a “requirement-free” admissions process could be the difference between denial or admission to a dream school. It could alter student scholarship opportunities as well.
The 2022 acceptance rate at Fordham University was 63 percent among students who submitted scores, compared with 49 percent among those who did not. Similarly, Boston College’s 2022 incoming class recorded an acceptance rate of 25 percent among those who submitted scores and 10 percent among students who did not. This admittance discrepancy holds true for other big name schools, including Barnard, the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech, Amherst, and many more. The glaringly unfair aspect of test-optional guidelines is that wealthy students know it’s a meaningless distinction; lower-income students with less access to college counselors, however, do not.
The percentage of students taking the SAT from high-income families jumped from 46 percent in 2016 to 57 percent in 2022.
The test-optional system is in dire need of restructuring. In order to promote true equity, schools should completely eliminate SAT/ACT scores from the college application process. There’s precedent: As of 2021, none of the University of California schools accept or even consider score reports of any kind. If all universities were to follow suit, it would level the playing field by negating the expenses of tests, tutors and studying time.
Unfortunately, many schools are moving in the opposite direction. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a school focused on science and mathematics, will once again require test scores beginning in fall 2023. The university administration argues that test scores help predict students’ success at MIT and aid the school in identifying promising students who may not have had access in high school to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities.
While I disagree with this decision, it is still more equitable than labelling test scores “optional.” At least in the case of MIT, all students will be aware of the requirement and can at least attempt to study accordingly. The deceptively exclusionary message of “test-optional,” however, is often only correctly deciphered by expensive tutors and guidance counselors.
Related: COLUMN: Colleges decry Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, but most have terrible track records on diversity
Disregarding test scores and requiring them are both far more transparent than the current system at many schools. With the Supreme Court affirmative action decision injecting some chaos into the college application process, it’s important for colleges to be as straightforward with applicants as possible. The misleading “test-optional” label only complicates the path to college for many low-income students.
Maggie Bigelow is a former public high school teacher and current MFA nonfiction writing candidate at Columbia University.
This story about test-optional admissions was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.
The debate over whether the college admissions process discriminates against Asian Americans has persisted for decades, as Higher Ed Dive reported. One of the two lawsuits that led to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against race-conscious admissions alleged that Harvard University sets a higher bar for Asian American applicants.
The National Bureau of Economic Research report found that the admissions gap between white and Asian American admission rates is actually separate and “conceptually distinct” from affirmative action. Indeed, common institutional policies, like legacy admissions favoring alumni’s family members, disproportionately hurt Asian American students, the paper found.
Researchers analyzed the test scores, grade point averages and extracurricular activities of almost 686,000 college applications from roughly 293,000 Asian American and white students. They further disaggregated Asian American student data by South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia subgroups. The data spans five admission cycles, beginning with 2015-16.
Legacy is one of the key issues. Both white and Asian American legacy applicants were more than twice as likely to be accepted than applicants without legacy status. But East Asian and Southeast Asian students were roughly three times less likely to have legacy status than white students. The likelihood for South Asian students plummeted almost six times lower than white students.
To make matters worse, Asian American applicants can not simply outperform their competition, the paper said. Even though they had higher average standardized test scores than white students, they faced worse odds of being admitted. Among students in the 99th percentile of test takers, South Asian students were 43% less likely to be accepted to a selective college than white students.
Many young Indian students hope to be accepted into prestigious universities like Harvard, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge. The road is surely difficult, but it also presents an opportunity for academic and personal improvement. Here are some helpful tips that will help ambitious scholars navigate their way toward these universities.
Planning carefully from the beginning is essential for getting accepted to prestigious universities. The main goal for aspirants should be to achieve academic excellence in high school in order to lay a solid academic foundation. A well-rounded personality can be demonstrated in addition to academic achievement through participation in extracurricular activities, leadership positions, and community service.
Top institutions are renowned for their exacting academic standards. Aspiring students should pursue excellence in their academic performance on a regular basis, maintain good grades, and embrace challenging subjects. Standardized tests like the SAT or ACT are additionally required for admission. To get competitive scores, thorough preparation and practice are required.
Admissions committees prefer students that stand out for their distinctive personalities and experiences. A compelling personal statement that highlights your interests, motivations, and passions can have a big influence. Share experiences that illustrate your character and journey, indicating why you are a perfect fit for the institution’s community.
Your character, work ethic, and potential are revealed in strong letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, or bosses. Invest time in developing meaningful relationships with those who can attest to your abilities and accomplishments. A unique recommendation can provide your application more substance.
Top institutions encourage well-rounded individuals who provide back to their communities
Top universities value well-rounded individuals who contribute to their communities. Engage in extracurricular activities that genuinely resonate with you. Whether it’s science research, sports, arts, or social activism, showcasing dedication and impact can make your application shine.
Asian American students were 28% less likely to get into selective U.S. colleges than white Americans with similar test scores, grade-point averages and extracurricular activities, a new working paper suggests.
The disparity is particularly pronounced for students of South Asian descent. Their odds of admission were 49% lower than their similarly qualified white peers, researchers learned after analyzing nearly 700,000 undergraduate applications submitted to a subset of the nation’s most exclusive schools over five years.
U.S. students of East Asian or Southeast Asian ancestry were 17% less likely to be accepted than white U.S. students.
A big factor driving differences in admission rates: selective colleges’ preference for students who are the children of alumni, known as legacy students, coauthors Sharad Goel, a professor of public policy of Harvard Kennedy School, and Josh Grossman, a Ph.D. candidate studying computational social science at Stanford University, told The Journalist’s Resource in a joint interview.
Historically, legacy applicants have tended to be white. When Goel, Grossman and their colleagues looked specifically at applicants with the highest standardized test scores, they discovered almost 12% of white Americans had legacy status, as did about 7% of Hispanic Americans and just under 6% of Black Americans.
High-scoring Asian Americans were least likely to be legacies — about 3.5% were.
“High-scoring white applicants are three to six times more likely to have legacy status than high-scoring Asian American applicants, suggesting white applicants disproportionately benefit from a boost in admission rates afforded to those with legacy status,” the researchers write.
The paper’s authors are not disclosing the number or names of schools they studied. They do note the institutions have low acceptance rates, meaning they reject most applicants, and high yield rates, indicating the majority of accepted students choose to enroll.
Goel and Grossman say they started studying applicants two years ago with the goal of determining whether there’s merit to longstanding allegations that the country’s most selective institutions appear to set the bar for entry higher for Asian applicants, imposing what’s commonly referred to as the “Asian penalty.”
At the time, two lawsuits challenging race-based affirmative action at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were making their way through the U.S. court system. Students for Fair Admissions, the national organization that brought the lawsuits, alleged the practice gave Black, Hispanic and Native American applicants an edge in the admissions process but harmed Asian applicants.
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited colleges and universities nationwide from considering race or ethnicity when choosing students, except at military academies.
Goel and Grossman urge journalists to help audiences understand how the affirmative action ban and higher education policies that benefit white students are affecting and will affect Asian enrollment. It’s important journalists don’t conflate the two issues, they add.
In addition to raising concerns about prioritizing legacy students, the new paper also raises questions about whether colleges should continue focusing on applicants’ extracurricular activities and strive to draw students from various parts of the country.
The analysis shows Asian Americans participated less often in high school sports and other activities outside the classroom, compared with white Americans. Asian Americans also were less likely to attend high school in rural areas or in less populated states such as Montana, Wyoming and Vermont.
“It’s not affirmative action keeping Asian American students from these selective colleges — it’s things like legacy admissions and geography, sports,” Goel says. “By saying we’re going to value things like legacy status and geographic diversity, we are pretty directly giving a boost to white students. It’s a predictable boost.”
The new paper, released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, builds on earlier scholarship that spotlights ways college admissions practices reinforce racial inequities.
Institutions must balance many competing goals when deciding who to include in a new, incoming class of students, explained education scholar OiYan Poon, who did not participate in this study but has spent more than a decade researching U.S. college admission policies. She is co-director of the College Admissions Futures Co-Laborative at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Poon pointed out that institutional priorities generally include building a successful athletic program, maintaining relationships with alumni and donors, maintaining relationships with high schools, improving the geographic diversity of the student body and balancing the annual budget.
“Note that all of the competing goals I listed inherently privilege white students (e.g., student athletes are nearly 90% white),” she wrote in an email to The Journalist’s Resource.
The researchers examined a total of 685,709 applications that 292,795 Asian American and white American students sent to a subset of selective schools through a national postsecondary application platform. They obtained data on applications submitted from the 2015-16 application cycle to the 2019-20 application cycle.
All 292,795 students included in the study graduated from U.S. high schools and, on average, took four Advanced Placement tests, reported completing 3,236 hours of extracurricular activities and earned standardized test scores equivalent to a 32 on the ACT college-entrance exam.
The average ACT score for all U.S. high school graduates in 2021 was 20.3, with a maximum score of 36, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
While the dataset does not include colleges’ admissions decisions, the national application portal tracks whether and when high schools use it to send an official transcript to a specific college. The researchers note these transcript submissions are a “highly accurate” indicator a student has enrolled at the school.
As an additional check, the researchers matched a random trial of 5,000 applicants from their study pool to the National Student Clearinghouse database. The Clearinghouse collects enrollment data from higher education institutions across the U.S.
Goel and Grossman say their intention is not to call out specific schools. Instead, they aim to call attention to problematic patterns that appear to be common among colleges and universities that are toughest to get into.
“One of our overarching goals is to Excellerate the admissions process going forward,” Goel says. “We are trying to equip university administrators, policymakers and legislators with the information they need to make these types of choices.”
Sabina Tomkins, a computational scientist and assistant professor of information at the University of Michigan, and Lindsay Page, the Annenberg Associate Professor of Education Policy at Brown University, also are coauthors of the paper, “The Disparate Impacts of College Admissions Policies on Asian American Applicants.”
Grossman notes that besides legacy preferences, several other admissions practices seem to benefit white Americans to the detriment of Asian Americans. For example, the selective schools he and his colleagues studied appear to exhibit geographic preferences.
The institutions were less likely to admit students from states with large proportions of Asian American applicants such as California and Washington, Grossman and his colleagues write.
Generally speaking, many U.S. colleges and universities seek geographic diversity, aiming to draw students from across the country and globe. Last year, some Ivy League schools started ramping up recruitment in rural America, Christopher Rim, the CEO of an education and college admissions consulting firm in New York City, wrote in Forbes magazine in December.
However, 1% of the Asian American applicants included in this new study graduated from high schools in rural communities, compared with 5% of white Americans, the analysis shows.
A significant emphasis on extracurricular activities, including student clubs and sports, also appears to benefit white Americans over Asian Americans. Asian American students reported participating much less often in extracurricular activities. The median number of hours they reported doing extracurricular activities during their four years of high school was 2,975, compared with 3,384 hours for white students.
When the researchers looked specifically at sports participation, the difference was even bigger. The median number of hours Asian Americans were involved in athletic activities was 240 over four years — less than one-third the median number of hours for white students.
Grossman says he and his colleagues aren’t implying selective schools are trying to limit or block Asian Americans. But their analysis does raise questions about equity in college admissions.
He urges journalists to ask college administrators why they continue giving legacy students special treatment.
“The defense a lot of schools provide for legacy admissions is quite vague — it encourages donations and that money is important for students who otherwise couldn’t attend the university [because] they need the financial aid,” Grossman says.
He suggests pressing officials for detailed answers, and investigating whether abandoning legacy preferences would actually hurt colleges or lower-income students.
“Really question schools,” he adds. “If legacy admissions were to be eliminated, how much would they really suffer? And ask donors: Would a donor continue donating if it was eliminated? Is there a substitute that would work?”
Poon, the education scholar, stressed the importance of journalists recognizing that the disparities revealed in this new paper were not caused by affirmative action.
“On the contrary,” she wrote, “I worry that without race-conscious admissions such disparities could widen.”
Asian Americans are less likely to be accepted to colleges or universities than white applicants, according to a accurate study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
About the study: Researchers analyzed five admission cycles from 2015 to 2021 and found that Asian American applicants were 28% less likely to be admitted to highly selective institutions than white students with similar test scores, grade point averages and extracurricular activities.
“Unrelated” to the affirmative action case: The findings of the study, which is reportedly the first to collect such data in nearly a quarter century, are “largely unrelated” to the affirmative action case, according to data scientist Josh Grossman, one of the study’s authors.
“If you consider that Black and Hispanic students have a disadvantage in a world where affirmative action exists and don’t believe that Asian American students have those disadvantages … then Asian American and white students should be admitted at similar rates,” Grossman told Inside Higher Ed. “What we found is that is not the case.”
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Admissions gaps: The researchers also found admissions gaps among different ethnicities of Asian American applicants. Students of South Asian descent were 49% less likely to be admitted than white applicants as compared to a 17% difference between students of East Asian descent and white students.
“We haven’t seen any other paper that really treats Asian American students as anything other than this monolithic group, but there is a marked heterogeneity in their experiences,” Grossman said. “If you don’t consider that, you lose an important part of the story.”
Legacy status hurts applicants: The study also suggests that legacy admissions, which favor alumni’s family members, disproportionately hurt applicants. White and Asian American legacy applicants are reportedly more than twice as likely to be accepted than applicants without legacy status. However, East Asian and Southeast Asian applicants are three times less likely to have legacy status than white students. As for South Asian students, legacy status rates are almost six times lower than those of white students.
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Sometimes a nation's most cherished idea about itself can act like a slow poison. That happened in Britain after the Second World War with the idea that Britain remained a great power. This produced the debacle of Anglo-French Suez intervention in 1956. It prevented Britain from becoming a founding member of the European Union (thereby shaping it in a more liberal direction) and distracted it from the labor of rebuilding the economy.
The equivalent across the Atlantic is the idea that America is the world's greatest meritocracy, a rebuke to the closed aristocratic societies of the Old World. This assumption was reasonable in the 19th century when millions of immigrants fled class-bound Europe in search of wealth and opportunity. It was a reasonable assumption for much of the 20th century--particularly after the Second World War--when an expanding economy created the world's biggest middle class.
But over the past 20 years it has ceased to be true as inequality increased and mass education deteriorated. The U.S. has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries. It is also generating a ruling class that is beginning to resemble the hereditary elite of old Europe rather than the open elite of Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America."
America's conviction that it is a meritocracy has blinded it to this development and led it to tolerate practices that would be beyond the pale in supposedly class-bound societies such as Great Britain. Old Europe is astonished by the practice of American ambassadors buying their political appointments with lavish donations to party funds, thereby leap-frogging over professional diplomats with sometimes embarrassing consequences. This is something that European powers abandoned a century ago.
Old Europe is even more astonished by the preferences that America's elite universities provide to the children of alumni ("legacies") or to people who donate mounds of cash to the institutions. Only a country that is convinced it is a meritocracy can tolerate such flagrant abuses of the meritocratic principle.
Is America waking up to the reality that it's not as meritocratic as it thinks it is? The accurate Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action for minorities had the unexpected effect of igniting debate about affirmative action for the rich. The majority's opinion included several swipes at legacy admissions in order to undermine the tone of moral superiority adopted by the defendants of the status quo.
And the mainstream press devoted almost as much space to debating the merits of legacies as it did to lamenting the death of race-based admissions. Six conservative judges have done more to stir up debate about the flagrant abuse that is legacy admissions than an army of social justice warriors.
A new study by Raj Chetty and David J. Deming of Harvard University and John N. Friedman of Brown University is perfectly timed to provide this debate analytical rigor and empirical heft. The three economists establish two vital points by poring over a combination of anonymized admissions data to Ivy-Plus Colleges (the "plus" being Stanford, MIT, Duke and the University of Chicago) and income tax returns.
The first is that elite colleges make a big difference when it comes to admission to the very summit of American society, what might be loosely called "the establishment." Less than half of one percent of Americans attend Ivy-Plus colleges, yet these 12 institutions account for more than 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, a quarter of U.S. senators, half of all Rhodes Scholars, three-fourths of Supreme Court justices, and 13 percent of the top 0.1 percent of earners. The staffs of America's leading newspapers, particularly The New York Times, are thick with Ivy graduates.
By comparing two groups of wait-listed students--those who are admitted to Ivy-Plus universities and those who are rejected--they note that the successful are much more likely to reach the top 1 percent of the income distribution, attend an elite graduate school, and work for a prestigious firm.
The second is that, for all their vaunted commitment to diversity and social justice, Ivy-Plus colleges are machines for perpetuating or perhaps amplifying class privilege. One in six students at Ivy League schools has parents in the top 1 percent of the income distribution. This is not just because the children of the rich are more likely to apply to elite colleges.
Nor is it because the children of the rich have higher academic scores than middle class applicants: Children from the top 1 percent of the income distribution (more than $611,000) are 55 percent more likely to secure admission than a typical middle-class applicant with the same SAT or ACT scores, and children from the top 0.1 percent are more than twice as likely to get in.
It is because elite colleges deliberately discriminate in favor of the rich.
The economists point to three mechanisms that perpetuate such discrimination: the preferences given to the children of alumni, to private schools that specialize in producing strong non-academic credentials, and to athletes. Legacy students from families in the top 1 percent are five times as likely to be admitted as the average applicant with similar test scores.
This adds to other damning data on the subject: Evidence submitted by the plaintiffs in the affirmative action case reveals that 34 percent of legacy applicants were admitted to Harvard compared with 6 percent of non-legacies, while an Associated Press review of the practice revealed that prominent universities such as Cornell, Dartmouth, Notre Dame and the University of Southern California have more legacy students than Black students.
Applicants from private schools (such as Phillips Academy and Choate Rosemary Hall) are more than twice as likely to be admitted as those who attend public high schools with the same test results. This is largely because such private schools are good at burnishing CVs with extra-curricular activities, flowery letters of recommendation, and judicious phone calls.
The most flagrant abuse is with athletes, who are admitted at four times the rate of nonathletes with the same test scores. Forget about the idea that athletes are likely to be minority children from inner cities. They are almost always rich whites who specialize in sports--particularly elite sports such as fencing or golf--from an early age.
One in eight students from the top 1 percent was an athlete. The comparable figure for the bottom 60 percent is one in 50.
In the days when Britain had a pipeline from the playing fields of the great public schools to Oxbridge colleges, such athletes were referred to as "flannelled fools and muddied oafs." Today that dubious tradition is stronger in America than Britain.
Just as affirmative action for minorities gives them a moral boost, affirmative action for the rich provides them with a material boost. College sports teams solidify alumni loyalty (and donations) while reinforcing the college spirit. A 2022 study of admission data for an anonymous elite northeastern college found that legacies are much more likely to provide money and time to their alma mater and massively more likely to provide big donations, with 42 percent of legacy graduates flagged as potential top givers compared with 6 percent of non-legacy graduates. Big gifts help to keep America's universities at the forefront of academic research, the argument goes; they also provide them the wherewithal to fund poorer students.
But such arguments are hardly dispositive: What do fancy gyms or generous research grants count for if you pollute the academic ethic by selling places to the highest bidder? With an endowment of $53.2 billion as of June 2021, Harvard could survive on its interest for an age without sending out any more begging letters to alumni. Princeton has an even higher endowment per capita than Harvard.
The case against positive discrimination for the rich is gathering momentum. Wesleyan University recently announced that it will end legacy admissions, adding its name to an honor roll that now boasts Johns Hopkins, Amherst, and Carnegie Mellon and has long included Harvard's meritocratic neighbor MIT. Several advocacy groups are suing Harvard over the legacy admissions, citing the high proportion of legacy students who are white as well as rich.
An opinion poll conducted last year by the Pew Research Center found that 75 percent of Americans were against legacy admissions, up from 68 percent in 2019, and higher than the proportion of Americans who are against affirmative action for minorities.
The Chetty et al research demonstrates that Ivy-Plus colleges could easily diversify the pipeline into America's elite, long their claimed intention, by the simple expedient of getting rid of "hooks" that benefit the already privileged. Doing so would increase the share of students from the bottom 95 percent of the income distribution by 8.7 percentage points, adding 144 students from families earning less than $240,000 to the typical Ivy-Plus college.
Such an increase in poorer students is comparable to the reduction in the number of Black and Hispanic students that would follow from the elimination of race-based affirmative action. And it would increase social diversity without compromising economic outcomes.
Removing unjustified privileges for the rich should only be the beginning, given how skewed the admission to elite institutions is to the plutocracy, and given the price that America is paying for this in terms of social tension and lost ability. Several elite colleges now make attendance free for families who earn below a certain income--$100,000 at Stanford and Princeton and $85,000 at Harvard--though so far this has had surprisingly little impact on the class-composition of the universities.
Chetty et al make the case for "need affirmative" admissions policies in which low-income students with high academic ratings are given an admission preference. Others point to the virtues of the Texas model in which students in the top 10 percent of graduating classes in all the state's schools, in poor districts as well as rich, are guaranteed places in the University of Texas system.
The renewed debate is a sign that the U.S. status quo--plutocracy diluted by affirmative action for favored minorities--is breaking apart. Two arguments I have made:
1. Planting elite academic schools in poorer areas. This strategy worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when America was facing similar problems with social calcification, and progressive educationalists founded schools such as San Francisco's Lowell High School (1856) and New York City's Stuyvesant High School (1904) that proved extraordinarily successful in getting the children of poor immigrants into elite universities.
2. Preserving standardized tests in the face of calls for holistic assessment. There is evidence that such tests favor richer children who can afford expensive test prep. But they are much less class-biased than holistic assessments that provide you points for doing community service in Guatemala or excelling at fencing.
Highly selective public colleges such as the University of California, Berkeley that follow more standardized processes in evaluating applications exhibit smaller disparities in admission rates by parental income than private colleges that make more use of holistic evaluations.
In Ivy-Plus universities, standardized tests are also "substantially better" predictors of success after college than the non-academic factors (polish or academic ability); according to Chetty et al, such non-academic factors may "negatively predict" later success.
Let us start by abolishing obvious abuses such as legacies and athletic boosts. It is unusual for an economic research paper to point to such a clear-cut solution to a big social problem. But let us go further and use time-honored tools such as standardized tests and selective high schools to make a reality once again of one of America's most cherished ideas about itself:that it is a country where ability can be matched with opportunity and where success in life is distributed according to the logic of merit rather than the lottery of parental income.
This article appeared originally as "A Century Of The Mauser 98" in the July 1998 issue of American Rifleman. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page and select American Rifleman as your member magazine.
The great success of the Mauser 98 rifle is due chiefly to its well-designed turnbolt action developed by Paul Mauser. Millions of Mauser military and sporting rifles and carbines with actions of original or slightly modified Mauser 98 design have been produced. The military versions were mostly replaced by semi-automatic and automatic rifles, but sporters with Mauser 98 actions are still going strong. In addition, other turnbolt rifles of various makes and models have actions based generally on the Mauser 98. Mauser enthusiasts often express their feelings on the matter with the phrase: “It’s the one they all copied.”
In accordance with German military practice, the Mauser 98 rifle was officially dubbed Gewehr (Rifle) 98 for the year of its adoption. A longer designation was Infantry Rifle 98. The name Mauser 98, in honor of Paul Mauser, is used commonly in lieu of military designations. It is a generic term for a rifle or carbine with the Mauser 98 action or for the action alone. The term Model 98 is also used.
Paul Mauser developed a series of smokeless-powder magazine rifles introduced from 1889 to 1897, and many improvements in those rifles were carried over into the Rifle 98.
In 1888, Germany adopted the 7.9 mm Rifle 88, often called the “Commission Rifle” because it was developed by the Rifle Testing Commission at Spandau Arsenal. Several serious faults of that rifle showed up during use by troops. It was clear that a new rifle of foolproof design was needed. German authorities were favorably impressed with the 7 mm Mauser Model 93 rifle adopted by Spain. That led to German tests of Mausers in various calibers and, finally, to adoption of the Rifle 98 in 7.9 mm.
The simple and reliable action of the Rifle 98 set the pattern for others in the Mauser 98 family and did much to make the name Mauser virtually synonymous with bolt-action rifles.
Mauser 98s in 7.9 mm served the German military for the first half of this century. The first was the Rifle 98 (top), and this example was made at Danzig in 1906. The Carbine 98a (center) saw use during World War I. The 98a pictured was made by Erfurt in 1915. The Carbine 98k (below) was the “backbone” of the German army in World War II. Compilation of images and gear courtesy of Glenn M. Gilbert, Philip Schreier, Interarms and National Archives.
Among the most important Rifle 98 features are its loading system and box magazine. Expendable five-round strip clips, also called chargers, are used to load the magazine from the top. With the bolt open, a clip of cartridges is inserted in guideways on the receiver, and the rounds are pushed down into the magazine. The empty clip is ejected automatically while closing the bolt. Loose rounds can also be loaded into the magazine. The Mauser clip-loading system gives the important advantage of increased firepower.
The fixed box magazine with staggered cartridge column is flush with the underside of the stock. It is closed at the bottom by a floorplate that can be detached easily for cleaning. The magazine box and trigger guard form an integral unit called the guard. It is fastened to the receiver by two guard screws.
Another important feature is the simple and strong one-piece bolt with dual-opposed front locking lugs that engage shoulders in the receiver ring. That system gives less receiver stretch and bolt compression than rear locking. Mauser claimed that symmetrical support with dual-opposed lugs helped obtain the best accuracy.
A safety lug at the rear of the bolt protects the shooter should the front locking system fail. It is often erroneously called a third locking lug, but it actually clears the locking shoulder in the receiver.
The bolt is bored out from the rear to receive the firing mechanism consisting of the bolt sleeve (also called bolt plug), one-piece firing pin, cocking piece and coil mainspring. A half-turn leaf safety and spring-actuated bolt sleeve lock are fastened to the bolt sleeve.
Drawings of an Oberndorf Mauser sporter show the rifle’s loading sequence. The bolt is opened; a loaded clip is inserted into the clip slots at the front of the receiver bridge; cartridges are pushed down into the magazine with the thumb; and the bolt is pushed forward, feeding a cartridge and automatically ejecting the clip.
A simple two-stage trigger mechanism is pivoted on the receiver. Preliminary pull of the trigger, called slack, levers the sear downward almost out of contact with the cocking piece. The point of leverage is then transferred from the forward hump on the trigger to the rear hump, and the remaining pull causes the cocking piece to be released. That gives sufficient safety for rough handling of the rifle combined with a relatively easy final trigger pull.
Unlike several of today’s bolt-action rifles, the Rifle 98 does not feature a speed lock. Its fairly heavy firing pin and cocking piece plus the half-inch firing pin stroke are designed to provide sure-fire performance under rugged field conditions in mud, sand and extreme cold. The heavy cocking piece helps the firing pin support the primer during the period of high pressure.
Cocking of the firing mechanism occurs chiefly while opening the bolt. The bolt diameter is increased at the rear where the cocking cam is located. That causes the cam to turn on a larger radius so that cocking is eased. An extraction cam on the root of the bolt handle helps loosen the fired cartridge case from the chamber. Seating the cartridge in the chamber and completion of cocking are assisted by locking cams.
From 1889 to 1897, Mauser developed a series of smokeless powder rifles—mostly for export—and many improvements to those rifles were incorporated into the Model 1898. One typical rifle was the Spanish Model 1893 as produced by Loewe.
The long non-rotary extractor, fastened to the right side of the bolt by an extractor collar, gives controlled-round feeding by engaging the case rim to hold the cartridge on the bolt face from the time the round leaves the magazine until the fired case is ejected. That results in a big plus for foolproof functioning, very important in a military arm and also in sporters used for hunting dangerous game.
When the bolt is fully to the rear, it has considerable sideward wobble due to generous lateral clearance and short bearing in the receiver. That gives an impression of sloppy workmanship, and many shooters claim that it causes the bolt to bind. Offsetting those drawbacks, the side clearance allows for some receiver warpage during heat treatment and contributes to reliable functioning in the presence of sand, dirt and mud.
As the bolt is pulled rearward, the spring-actuated ejector enters a slot in the left locking lug and ejects the cartridge case out to the right. The ejector and bolt stop are fastened on the left side of the receiver by a screw.
Tangent curve rear sight on World War II vintage 98k Carbine (top) features elevation adjustments from 100 to 2000 meters. Lange rear sight (bottom) on Model 98 rifle designed for use with S cartridge ranges from 400 to 2000 meters.
The bolt handle, located conveniently at the rear of the bolt, is disliked by many riflemen because it projects horizontally. According to the British Textbook of Small Arms (1909), the horizontal bolt handle comes easily to the hand without the eyes being taken off the target. It can also be readily hit from the bottom to ease extraction. However, the horizontal handle is not as compact and neat as a turned-down handle, is more likely to be pushed up accidentally, and many shooters find that it makes bolt operation awkward when firing from the shoulder.
The receiver ring is 1.41" diameter, somewhat larger than the rest of the receiver. That strengthens the receiver in the locking area. Additional strength is provided by a collar integral with the receiver ring’s interior. The collar is slotted on the right to clear the extractor. Otherwise it is a close fit with the cylindrical bolt head to provide a shrouded effect and help prevent rearward escape of gas in event of a ruptured cartridge.
Pre-World War I German 7.9 mm Rifle 98.
Two large oblong holes in the left side of the bolt allow escape of gas entering the bolt through the firing pin hole. The gas can then drive rearward through a deep rounded cut in the receiver’s left side. Another purpose of the cut is to provide thumb clearance when loading the magazine. A gas shield at the front of the bolt sleeve also helps protect the shooter.
Deep seating of the cartridge in the chamber to support the case in its critical head area is an important but often overlooked safety feature. Only 2.8 mm (0.110") of the case head projects from the chamber of the Rifle 98 when the round is seated.
Paul Mauser improved the Rifle 98 a few years after it was introduced. German patent 154915, dated May 22, 1901, described a safety firing pin with diametrically opposed lugs on the front of its mainspring flange. The lugs align with shoulders in the bolt when the action is unlocked. According to the German patent, this feature prevents firing if the firing pin would break when the bolt is open.
The Rifle 98 was produced in large quantity by the Mauser Co., several other commercial firms and German arsenals (Spandau, Danzig, Erfurt and Amberg). Mauser and its parent firm, DWM in Berlin, were the most important commercial producers. (DWM stands for Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken A.G.; German Arms and Ammunition Co., Inc.)
Post-World War I German 7.9 mm Carbine 98b.
A short 7.9 mm carbine with Mauser 98 action was also adopted by the German Army. Stocked to the muzzle, it is only 37.4" long and has a flat, turned-down bolt handle to fit a saddle scabbard. Some specimens have replacement bolts with round bolt handle knobs.
The 7.9 mm S cartridge with spitzer bullet, adopted by Germany in 1903 and ready for issue in 1905, gave excellent results in the Rifle 98 with its 74 cm (29.13") barrel, but produced excessive muzzle blast and flash when fired in the short barrel of the carbine.
In 1908, a longer carbine with 60 cm (23.62") barrel was adopted. It was called Karabiner 98AZ. (AZ stands for Aufpflanz und Zusammenstellvorrichtung; a means for fixing bayonet and stacking arms.) The AZ was dropped from the designation in 1912. This carbine is actually a versatile short rifle. One of its peculiar features is a turned-down bolt handle with the inner side of the knob flattened and knurled. Another is a small receiver ring of 1.30" diameter. It was issued to cavalry, foot artillery and special troops. Used extensively during World War I, it also saw service after that war when it was renamed Karabiner 98a.
Shortly after the turn of the century, many nations in addition to Germany adopted rifles and carbines with Mauser 98 actions. They were in various calibers, principally 7 mm and 7.65 mm, and had a number of different model designations. Mauser, DWM and the Austrian Arms Co., Steyr, Austria, were the leading producers. Turkey was one of the best customers. Others were China, Siam, Serbia, Mexico, Costa Rica and several South American nations.
World War II-vintage German 7.9 mm Carbine 98k.
Due to restrictions placed on German production of military arms by the Versailles Treaty, manufacture of military Mausers was largely taken over during the 1920s and 1930s by Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Herstal, Belgium, and Cesko-slovenska Zbrojovka (Czechoslovakian Arms Factory; abbreviated CZ), Brno, Czechoslovakia. Mausers produced by those firms were in several calibers and had various designations, but all had Mauser 98 actions. They were sold to nations in Europe, Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. Government arsenals in Poland, Yugoslavia, Spain, China and other countries also produced rifles with Mauser 98 actions.
After World War I, The German Rifle 98 was modified by fitting an increased-width lower band and improved rear sight with flat leaf. A long carbine called Karabiner 98b was also adopted. Despite its carbine designation, it has the same 74-cm barrel length as the rifle to avoid muzzle flash when firing the heavily loaded S cartridge. It also has a turned-down bolt handle.
The Mauser Co. developed a Model 98 short rifle around 1924 called the Standard-Modell. Featuring a 60-cm barrel and horizontal bolt handle, it was offered commercially in 7.9 mm, 7 mm or 7.65 mm. It was later sold to China and various other countries.
In 1929 and 1930, the German Army tested Mauser Standard-Modell short rifles and 98b carbines with barrels shortened to 60 cm. The shortened 98b proved to be handier, very likely because of its turned-down bolt handle, and was favored for adoption. It was found that the 7.9 mm sS cartridge with spitzer-boattail bullet gave less muzzle flash than the S cartridge, and was suitable for use in short rifles. (sS stands for schweres Spitzgeschoss; heavy-pointed bullet.)
Early, original Mauser 8x57 mm Sporter with two-stage single trigger and rounded bottom pistol grip.
The new carbine was given the name Karabiner 98k (k is for kurz, meaning short.) Hitler disregarded the Versailles Treaty, and the 98k was officially adopted in June, 1935. Limited production was started in 1934. As standardized for production, the 98k featured a Mauser-designed single barrel band retainer that secured both upper and lower bands. Mauser and many other firms produced the 98k in tremendous quantity until the German collapse in 1945. Some were made following the war during the French occupation of the Mauser Co. in Oberndorf a/N.
Mauser 98 sporters run the gamut from economy versions converted from military rifles to elegant and expensive specimens in the Rolls-Royce category. The most noted producer was the Mauser Co. Sporters offered by that firm from about the turn of the century until the end of World War II were made in rifle and carbine models with a wide choice of calibers and various action lengths from short to magnum. Called original Mauser sporters, they were available with many extras, and were actually custom guns.
There are many other makers of Mauser 98 sporters in Germany, the United States and other countries. Some custom sporters are made from scratch, action and all, and are priced to ruin almost any bank account.
The Mauser Co. made paramilitary Mauser 98 target rifles similar in appearance to the German Rifle 98. Most were in 8.15x46R. They were discontinued at the end of World War II and are now much sought after by collectors.
Home-made sporter made from a 98k with a buttpad and cut-down fore-end.
Mauser officials told me many years ago that they decided not to resume production of the Mauser 98 action following World War II because of high manufacturing costs. In accurate years, the Mauser Co. introduced Model 98 sporters that have selected military actions. They are made in popular German and U.S. calibers.
There is considerable speculation by collectors and others as to how many Mauser 98 rifles and carbines were produced. Estimates vary greatly. Production figures can only be approximate due to loss of records and other factors. The German Carbine 98k was produced in especially large quantity. An estimate of its total production from 1935 through May, 1945, is 12.8 million. Sporter production was far less. Roughly 127,000 original Mauser Sporters, also called Oberndorf Mauser Sporters, were turned out from the turn of the century until the end of World War II.
Although the Mauser 98 has reached the ripe old age of 100, it still provides great fascination for collectors, shooters and gunsmiths and will likely continue to do so. Its impact on the basic design of various other turnbolt rifles is tremendous. It is a classic that deserves an honored place in the firearms hall of fame.
About the author: Ludwig Olson should be familiar to longtime readers of American Rifleman. Olson joined the NRA Technical Staff in 1957 and wrote numerous articles for Rifleman, and he eventually became Technical Editor. He retired in 1976. His book, Mauser Bolt Rifles, is regarded as the foremost work on the subject.
Special thanks to the late Alex Mauser, son of Paul Mauser, Fred Reigle, Dipl.-Ing. Wolfgang Seel, Albrecht Wacker and others who furnished information and photos.
The Supreme Court's decision to reverse the long-standing precedent on race-conscious college admissions may drastically change how medical schools evaluate candidates. Although it's still too soon to assess the extent of such changes or the impact on underrepresented students, some admissions experts and medical students suggest that well-written essays can boost students' odds of standing out.
Tyra-Lee Brett, a premed student at the University of South Florida and premedical trustee of the American Medical Student Association, told Medscape Medical News that students traditionally underrepresented in medicine — such as first-generation or low-income students, people of color, and immigrants — often have to compete with candidates who have more money and connections along with high test scores. Brett expects that underrepresented students will face additional challenges to admission without affirmative action policies.
Still, Brett believes students can use personal essays to embrace their lived experiences and demonstrate the distinct perspectives they would bring to a medical school class.
"Coming from South Africa and living through the Cape Town water crisis, I've had experiences that have nothing to do with patients and medical care, but they do show cultural competency, maturity, and people skills," Brett said, adding that she will highlight her experiences and the traits that resulted when she applies to medical programs soon.
"You want to show committees what it taught you, how you evolved, and [how you] will be a better physician."
Colleges are updating essay prompts to learn more about students' defining moments. For example, Harvard College, one of the schools the Supreme Court ruling addressed, now requires applicants to answer new essay prompts, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The prompts include: "Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?"
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that an applicant's personal experiences should carry the most weight in admissions decisions and that "nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise."
The Biden Administration also urged higher education institutions to "give serious consideration to the adversities students have overcome," such as a student's finances and "personal experience of hardships or discrimination, including racial discrimination the student may have faced. In doing so, colleges and universities can fully value aspiring students who demonstrate resilience and determination in the face of deep challenges."
Students on Reddit's premed community shared their frustration with essay prompts and their reluctance to divulge sensitive personal details.
"I feel like everyone's secondaries are either overcoming bullying, moving to a new place as an immigrant, health issue of yourself or a loved one, or a drug overdose or death of a friend. Mine is one of these…how [do] I even stand out," according to Reddit user Cold_King_4661. Other people posting said it felt "uncomfortable" and "invasive" to answer the prompts and likened it to a race for "who can dump the most trauma the fastest."
In another thread, a Redditor who goes by Snekyplant feared admissions committees might label an applicant "whiny" for discussing how they handled sexism in the workplace.
Wahaaj Farah, a premed student at Boston University, told Medscape that allowing students to open up about the events that have shaped their character and motivation to become a doctor can help students — particularly first-generation and students of color — express their potential beyond a GPA.
Farah plans to write about how a nearly fatal childhood illness and the treatment he and his parents received as immigrants from Somalia spurred his interest in medicine.
"Medical professionals didn't take my symptoms seriously, leading to later complications. The incident solidified my determination to offer compassionate care, guidance, and respect to patients," he said.
Underrepresented students may feel pressure to focus on their trauma, according to Hanna Stotland, JD, a Chicago-based attorney and independent admissions consultant who helps students with their medical school applications. She told Medscape that school counselors and advisors should support them in writing about their experiences to showcase the "distinctive insight" gained from those interactions.
Third-year Tufts University medical student Madeline Valverde told Medscape that when she applied to medical school, she was comfortable talking about the socioeconomic struggles and challenges of growing up with immigrant parents.
"I knew I was applying as a disadvantaged applicant, but I didn't see that as a detriment. My story is intertwined with my mission, vision, and goals for medicine and demonstrates the barriers I have overcome, so I chose to disclose those difficult circumstances," she said.
As they await federal guidance following the high court's decision, college leaders should continue pushing for racial equity in admissions, Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary in the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, said at a accurate affirmative action summit, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Some schools may reevaluate the fairness of legacy preferences following the AMA's lead in opposing the controversial policy that typically favors wealthier children of alums and donors.
Regardless, medical schools will continue to use "holistic" admissions practices to create a complete picture of the candidate's abilities and character, says Geoffrey H. Young, PhD, senior director of transforming healthcare workforce at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
Medical schools design holistic reviews around their missions and "each prospective student's full capabilities and experiences," Young told Medscape. He added that admissions committees may consider factors such as whether a student speaks multiple languages and is willing to work with vulnerable populations or study health inequities.
The holistic reviews help to boost diversity, even in the case of race-neutral admissions, he said.
Beginning with the 2024 medical school application cycle, AAMC will replace the self-reported "disadvantaged status" question with an optional essay prompt for "Other Impactful Experiences." The essay aims to provide a "snapshot of applicants' lived experiences" and additional context about personal challenges related to demographics such as religion, finances, or living situations.
The University of California at Davis School of Medicine showed that it could increase the diversity of its students after affirmative action was banned at the state's public universities in 1996. Half of the school's medical class of 2026 are people of color belonging to groups typically underrepresented in medicine, the school reports.
Like other medical schools, UC Davis uses a holistic review process that evaluates a student's grades, test scores, and experiences, said Shadi Aminololama-Shakeri, MD, professor and chair of the school of medicine's admissions committee. The school's "distance traveled" metric, part of the AAMC's holistic review framework, considers socioeconomic factors such as family income, parents' education level, and if the student grew up in a medically underserved community, she told Medscape.
"We believe the ability to overcome such obstacles reflects grit, resilience, commitment, and the ability to connect with patients from all walks of life — important qualities needed for the medical workforce in California and elsewhere."
At Duke University School of Medicine, "holistic review" incorporates multiple essays and mini-interview sessions to learn about students instead of a traditional interview, which tends to be longer. Interviewers only know the student's name to minimize bias and evaluate traits not easily measured by standardized tests, such as cultural competency, emotional intelligence, and the ability to navigate difficult situations, the school reports.
According to its annual diversity report last year, the school has steadily enrolled more women, Black, and Hispanic students but has not substantially increased representation among Asian students and other minority groups.
Brett, the University of South Florida premed student, believes further educational changes are needed to achieve greater diversity in medical schools.
"Research and shadowing opportunities for underrepresented students are almost impossible to get and occur at rates much lower than for those in a majority category," she said, citing findings from an ongoing national AMSA study she's leading to evaluate barriers to med school application.
Improvements should begin at the undergraduate level, she said, with colleges increasing minority student access to mentors, advisors, and extracurricular activities. Then, by the time students apply to medical school, there might be a smaller gap between underrepresented groups and wealthier students, she said.
Steph Weber is a Midwest-based freelance journalist specializing in healthcare and law.
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