Columns, Opinions

Colby ’20: Equal admission rates for all

Staff Columnist
Thursday, January 26, 2017

Regular decision applications to Brown are finally in, and for some applicants, their high school’s name has already dramatically increased their chances of admission. Select high schools have acceptance rates to elite universities like Brown that are double or triple the national average. Brown has institutionalized a preference for elite, and mostly private, high schools, which undermines its commitment to holistic diversity in the admissions process.

Brown disproportionately focuses on applicants from elite private schools. It is an open secret that Brown assigns one admissions officer — Director of Admissions for Science Recruitment Annie Cappuccino — to just five of New York City’s most elite high schools, four of which are private. Yet these schools together constitute a meager graduating class of 1,120 students, according to their enrollment statistics. Meanwhile, Associate Director of Admission Momoho Takao works with all other public and private schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, an area that encompasses well over 35,000 graduating students yearly. These skewed admissions priorities are reflected in the composition of the student body: As a recent New York Times article notes, more Brown students come from the top 1 percent of incomes than from the entire bottom 60 percent. 

The elite high schools represented in Cappuccino’s district boast remarkably high levels of Ivy League enrollment. For instance, an astonishing 40 percent of students who graduate from private schools like Collegiate School, Brearley School and Trinity School attend Ivy League colleges. One might assume that not all students from these schools apply to Ivy League institutions and those who do are accepted at far higher rates than Brown’s stated 9 percent acceptance rate. These high acceptance rates from New York elite high schools are not an exception, but rather the norm among elite private high schools around the country; graduates from private high schools like the Dalton School, Horace Mann School and Chapin School all enroll in Ivy League schools at rates above 30 percent, according to their admissions statistics.

One could argue that these are the most qualified applicants, but this disproportionate acceptance rate is very hard to justify considering the vastness and quality of New York City’s public school system. The New York City Department of Education serves 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools, including high-quality, specialized high schools and a citywide public school choice program. But only one, Stuyvesant High School, is on Cappuccino’s elite agenda. Still, no New York City public high school sees as many of their students attending Ivy League universities as the city’s elite private schools.

It also could be argued that most Ivy League applications come from elite high schools, and that’s why Brown accepts students from these schools at higher rates. But this is patently false. Brearley, for example, only has 57 students in its graduating class. This means that even if every single Brearley student applied to Brown,  the number of applicants would still be less than two years’ worth of applicants from one of the city’s upper middle-tier public school, Beacon High School.

More than anything, this bias for private high schools undermines Brown’s stated goals of increasing diversity and inclusion. Brown has expanded the meaning of diversity to include gender diversity, aiming to maintain a near 50-50 gender balance. While Brown is making strides to increase its admission of underrepresented minorities, diversity in experience and upbringing is also important. Students from these private high schools are surrounded by peers and families that can afford an annual tuition in excess of $40,000 from a young age. And these high schools are largely racially homogeneous and often do not represent the communities in which they are located. Even specialized public schools, intended to serve the diverse student population of New York City, aren’t particularly diverse. Stuyvesant High School, for example, admitted just 10 black students last year out of an incoming  class of nearly 1,000, according to Brooklyn Magazine. When elite colleges admit students primarily from elite high schools, they ignore the economic and racial diversity of the broader student population.

Economic barriers exist to even gain entry to schools that provide these advantages in college admission. All of these selective private and public schools require standardized testing, which has a well-documented correlation with socioeconomic status. Standardized tests diminish the opportunities of lower-income students to gain admission to such exclusive educational institutions. The harm of these tests is compounded when success on such standardized exams is required as early as middle school to increase the chance of eventual admission to Ivy League schools.

Brown should shift its focus from elite private and public high schools and devote more attention to students from a wider range of educational backgrounds. Such an overwhelming focus on elite schools undermines  Brown’s stated commitment to diversity and also excludes a multitude of highly-qualified students who don’t come from elite schools. Horace Mann — who, ironically, happens to be the namesake of a New York City private school that charges thousands in tuition ­­— once called education “the great equalizer.” By focusing on elite private schools, Brown does a disservice to higher education’s role as a true equalizer and rather perpetuates existing inequalities in the United States.   If we want admissions to be truly fair, students from elite schools should be subject to acceptance rates that at least resemble those of other applicants. If not, Brown’s holistic admissions process will continue to be little more than hot air.

Owen Colby ’20 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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