ALDC: The Edges of Privileges in the College Race

by Vy Nguyen

No, ALDC does not stand for Abby Lee Dance Company.

In 2014, the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) organization filed a lawsuit against Harvard University, claiming the school discriminated against Asian-American students in its annual admission process. Of its six main arguments, SFFA notably alleged that Harvard failed to use neutral-racial alternatives; the school could have analyzed students by their socioeconomic situations instead of focusing on racial and ethnic identities.

SFFA suggested multiple methods to achieve this goal, one including lowering the admission rate for ALDC students, if not creating a separate application pool for this particular group. The reason is that allegedly, these students are given more “tips” than other applicants to the point of unfairness; 75% of these applicants fall short of the minimum academic, extracurricular, and personal standards others compete to be admitted.

So you might be wondering, who are qualified for this super special treatment and if you happen to be one of the lucky ones? No worries, except for Category A, you pretty much do not have to work that hard to be chosen. To secure a seat in the ALDC list, all you need is pure luck to be born in a privileged family.

ALDC stands for Recruited Athletes, Legacy, Dean and Director’s Interest List, and Children of Faculty. These students composed of 29% of Harvard students. They have been proven to be dominantly white, very rich, and consequently extremely privileged. 43% of white students hold ALDC status, while no more than 16% ALDC admits were African-American, Asian-American, or Latin-American.

  1. Recruited Athletes

You need a certain degree of talent to be recognized and recruited for Harvard’s sports teams, all of which are registered in Division I. So it probably makes sense to the admission officers to accept 87% of athlete applicants, an ample number compared to the general 4.5% acceptance rate. Though they are less than 1% of the application pool, recruited athletes make up more than 10% of their class (12.2% of Class of 2022). The large acceptance rate (over 80%) received by this group is the main reason why parents bribed to present their children as a “recruited athlete” during the Varsity Blues scandal.

It has been further observed and analyzed that Harvard’s recruits are disproportionately rich and white. According to the Harvard Crimson survey of Class of 2022, 26.3% of the class’ athletes come from families with annual income over $500,000, more than twice the amount of athletes with families’ annual income under $80,000. Approximately 69% of athletes were white; they are twice likely to be white compared to 1/3 likely to be Asians.

In the lawsuit, Judge Burroughs defended athletic preference that a stop to the “tip” given to athletes would make Harvard “far less competitive in Ivy League sports”, “adversely [impacting] Harvard and the student experience”. Translation: Harvard is legally allowed to play reverse affirmative actions for the rich, white students because of a few more won football or lacrosse games.

  1. Legacy

Alumni are a source of help Harvard relies upon greatly, making it necessary for the school to maintain the legacy advantage. This is the drive for many alumni to continue their support for the University through conducting alumni student interviews, donations, and volunteering at events, in the hope of being rewarded when their child applies.

While Harvard has not issued any spoken statements about the importance of legacy, many other Ivy League representatives had given their two cents. Maria Laskaris, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Dartmouth, commented in the college alumni magazine that “ It’s never easy to turn away the children of Dartmouth alumni”. Martha Pollack, president of Cornell, mentioned during an interview with the school newspaper that legacy privileges helped encouraging something called a “Cornell family,” praising exclusive education while dismissing the mission of spreading the Cornell progressive education. On a par with Pollack’s logic, the Harvard family would mostly be white, due to the schools’ history of racism and white-only admission.

34% of legacy applicants were accepted, five times as likely as non-legacy students. 

  1. Dean and Director’s Interest List

Before 2018 when Harvard was required to release all of its admission data for the lawsuit, people hardly knew what Dean and Director’s Interest List was. While there is not a clear classification for who is selected to be in this list, Dean Fitzsimmons admitted that a lot of students in this group are children or relatives of large donors, “high-priority” individuals, or people with connections to influential alumni. Court filings suggested that he regularly meets with Harvard Development Office, the department in charge of alumni donations, to add names to the Dean’s List and discuss specific applicants.

A series of emails between administrators and admissions officers were presented by John M. Hughes, a lawyer for SFFA, during one of the hearings as evidence to prove the school’s fondness towards the wealthy and well-connected. Fitzsimmons mentioned that the greater the “financial contribution[s]”, the higher the applicant’s ratings can be, resulting in higher chance of acceptance.

In one email headed “My Hero” back in June 2013, Dean Ellwood complimented Dean Fitzsimmons, “Once again you have done wonders… I am simply thrilled about all the folks you were able to admit… [Name redacted] gave major money for fellowships — before a decision from you!” The wealthy would donate millions to Harvard without knowing for certain their children’s acceptance to Harvard.

Another one was between Dean Fitzsimmons and a fundraising officer about a student whose family had donated $8.7 million. The officer stated frankly that while the family contributed generously, they had not been consistent in the more recent years, “Going forward, I don’t see a significant opportunity for further major gifts. [Name redacted] had an art collection which conceivably could come our way.”

9.34% of Class of 2014 to Class of 2019 are students from the Dean and Director’s Interest List, this means 192 seniors last academic year were a part of this list. The admission rate for students on the list during these six years went as high as 42.2%, more than nine times the overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2022.

  1. Children of Faculty

Pretty self-explanatory.

In conclusion, Harvard’s ALDC preference gives certain students a leg-up that is unfair to the rest. Aside from the athlete status, this advantage is given purely based on family circumstances, something the applicants do not have much decision or control over. Only 26% of ALDC candidates may be able to compete with non-ALDCs in terms of academic achievements.

This preference tends to push for more racial inequality at the school, evidently when taking into account the discovery that LDC advantages do not apply to African-American applicants. Black students at Harvard are from the top third of their application pool, a characteristic rarely found in most white LDC students.