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Wolverines, By the Numbers

Our author, "just your average white girl," sees if she has what it takes to get into the University of Michigan.

11:00 PM, Dec 10, 2002 • By BETH HENARY
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A GROUP OF STUDENTS at the University of Michigan have devised a tool that might have saved me several hours of nail-biting, and perhaps hundreds of dollars in application fees, had it existed for my school of choice when I applied to college. The staff of the Michigan Review, a conservative campus biweekly newspaper, has dedicated a section of its website to explaining the university's point system for undergraduate admissions. The site contains the university's official admissions policy, and, what's fun, an "admissions calculator" based on it so visitors can see if they make the cut.

On first glance, the calculator's purpose is clear: to personalize the injustice Review editors see in choosing applicants by race, which the university does for both undergraduate and graduate applicants. It is faithful to the point system used to evaluate freshman applicants, in which 100 out of a possible 150 points are generally needed to earn admission.

With the info I used to apply to college in 1997, I decided to use the admissions calculator to see if I would have a chance at getting into Michigan, a school not on my list back then. My specifics: grades and test scores not at but near the top, a private high school, and significant personal achievement on the national level. None of my family members attended Michigan, and my home state of Tennessee is, surprisingly, not underrepresented at U of M, so I don't get an alumni boost or geography points. Then I enter my race. I choose the "just your average white girl" option, then click "Let Me In!"

I get in, with 106 points. But then I lower my grade point average by 0.8, and reduce my personal achievement heights to statewide level. If I remain your average white girl, I get 86 points, an automatic reject; if I'm an underrepresented minority, I receive 106 points. A tip for applicants: Whites on the borderline might be tempted to ask one or both of their parents to quit their jobs, because being a socioeconomically disadvantaged white person yields the same result--106 points.

Before 1999, Michigan admitted undergraduates using a grid system, with SAT scores and GPAs combining to determine whether a student was admitted or rejected. Different grids were used for whites and "underrepresented" (non-Asian) minorities. In a case that is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, two white applicants sued the university over the practice. (Read more about the legal aspects of the case in Terry Eastland's article today.) Self-conscious of its dual-track practice after it was sued, Michigan in 1999 switched to the point system, whose aim is the same. Though the admissions system that is the subject of the lawsuit was abandoned three years ago, a Supreme Court ruling disallowing the use of race in admissions would include this new method as well.

For the freshman class of 1997, the University of Texas, my alma mater, used a complex system to admit students, one that surveyed a number of academic and personal, but not racial, factors. The previous year, in the Hopwood case, the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals made the use of race in college admissions illegal at UT. If I'd applied under the old system, which gave a slight but distinct advantaged to non-Asian minorities (the preference was more pronounced at the law school), and had been rejected, I might have sued, too.

Beth Henary is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.