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Losing the Race Race This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

A young woman is running a race. She is competing against many others, but only a few are able to keep up with her determined stride. To her right is a competitor, and as she feels her gaining on her, the young woman pushes harder and crosses the finish line first. Then she turns and sees people celebrating her competitor's victory. She stares breathlessly, panting, in a confused daze. This race was everything she had worked for, and now that it was over, how could she not have won?

In high school, I was described as “well-rounded” and “dedicated.” I worked hard, taking almost all AP classes and achieving well over a 4.0 GPA. I was even more dedicated, however, to the various organizations I either started or led and to the hundreds of hours of community service I completed on top of my many commitments. Those four years truly felt like a drawn-out race with little rest, one that I truly gave my all. “You'll go to whatever college you want,” I was constantly told. When it was time to choose, I aimed high, applying to Yale and Brown, choosing a few safety schools as well.

Out of the eight schools I applied to, I was admitted to just two – my safeties. This was very difficult for me; six times my eyes scanned a carefully crafted message saying that I was not good enough, that my accomplishments were not enough. I was able to overlook the academic aspect; I knew there were smarter people with even better grades than mine. However, I thought my dedication to community service and extracurricular activities would make me stand out. I found it hard to accept that none of my top schools saw my potential; I felt like I had lost the race.

Many peers and teachers told me that my rejections were a surprise to them, that I was a victim of a flawed admissions process. During the next few weeks I thought about my experiences and realized that there are a plethora of factors beneath the surface of colleges' evaluation of prospective students. There were just too many moving parts in the college admissions process to pinpoint exactly why I did not measure up as a candidate.

One factor in the college admissions equation – affirmative action – is based on the notion that race somehow correlates with socioeconomic status. While there is still some relationship between race and affluence, this division is shrinking with time. President John F. Kennedy introduced affirmative action in the early 1960s to level the playing field for disadvantaged minorities. This was a proper policy then as the Civil Rights ­Movement surged and racial prejudice was prevalent in schools, the workplace, and elsewhere. Yet we have come very far since that time, and while inequality certainly does still exist, I believe affirmative action now fosters counter-discrimination.

The admissions process should work for the right people; it should still be made as fair as possible for disadvantaged students, but our criteria for “disadvantaged” must not merely amount to one's ethnicity. These are not equal and should not be treated as such. We must start basing affirmative action on ­socioeconomic hardship instead of race. Then this policy would do what it was designed for: to account for hardships endured by less privileged students, ­regardless of ethnicity.

There will never be a foolproof way to make the admissions process completely fair to all. We can, however, develop strategies to minimize bias so that privileged students do not have a leg up in the race. We should take into account factors including the family's income, disabilities, and quality of school districts when implementing affirmative action. Some argue that eradication of affirmative action would result in a lack of diversity on college campuses, but disadvantages happen to students of every race. Diversity does not only present itself through ethnicity; diversity comes in the form of differences in ideas, practices, sexual orientation, religion, and countless other attributes.

I am a first-generation college student with only one parent working, my mother has a disability, and my parents were able to pay to put my brother through college. I will not pretend that I consider myself disadvantaged, but because I check the box “Caucasian,” I am seemingly thought of as not in need of assistance, whether in the admissions process or for scholarships.

We should build a system that rewards effort above all and accounts for disadvantages. If we do not change affirmative action, we are reversing the fight for equality and teaching young students backward values. I do not want to see promising, ambitious students give up, deciding that it's not worth running their hardest race due to unfair policies. I hope to see a future system that encourages a strong work ethic and rewards students for possessing it; after so many years of running, students deserve a fair system, after all.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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