How Young Immigrants Face Discrimination from American Universities

The college application process is stressful for any high school senior. It can come with added strain for immigrant students who have spent almost their entire lives in the American educational system.

Any youth living in the United States without a Green Card or US citizenship, either legally or illegally, is considered an international student. While most universities treat these applicants fairly and give them equal consideration and opportunity as they would any other student, some universities take this as a chance to employ antiquated and discriminatory policies. If an international student hasn’t lived in the United States and might not have grown up with English, the application process needs to determine how well this student will be able to assimilate and perform in a brand new environment speaking a brand new language.

In order for a university to do so, it can require the student to take a $200 Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Most schools will look at an international student’s transcript and test scores to determine his or her ability in speaking English; if the results are inconclusive, the TOEFL is required. This allows for all the students living in the United States who are considered international students to prove their English comprehension and overall academic ability through all previous academic work and qualification.

So while most schools are fair and just in determining a student’s ability to speak English, some other schools stick to more discriminatory and antiquated rules. These universities will refuse to look at any part of an international application if a TOEFL score is not submitted.

The act of discarding or tossing away an application under the idea that a non-US citizen is automatically unqualified based on a test score is extremely prejudiced against the bright minds of the United States’ immigrant youths and other international students. The idea that these students, who can speak English just as well as any other native speaker, are discarded and overlooked because a university is not willing to do its job and check an applicant’s qualifications is unacceptable.

I got in touch with a student who has undergone this experience. “I applied to four schools. Three of those four looked at my transcripts, SAT and ACT scores and determined that I would not need to prove my English proficiency further.” The student, whose name will be changed to Gweneth for privacy reasons, has been living and studying in the United States since she was ten years old. She quickly learned English and has succeeded in speaking the language at a fluent, native level. This was enough for all three universities that bothered to look at her application to determine that she was a qualified English speaker. In fact, the one university that deemed her unqualified was the same university that refused to even look at her application.

“I payed them an $80 application fee so that they would process and review my application, but they refused to do it unless I took a $200 TOEFL.” Gweneth said she chose not to take the $200 as she wanted to focus her time and finances on the schools that recognized her value.

Gweneth told me which university this was but was adamant that she did not want the information publicly disclosed. I reached out to other peers whom I thought would encountered this problem. Many had applied to places that did not require a TOEFL while a few said that they did in fact encounter this issue. I asked if they wanted to share this information but they chose not to as they preferred to focus their effort and attention on the universities to which they have been accepted. This makes sense, of course, it can be uncomfortable and even frightening to be a teenager talking negatively about a large and powerful institutions.

Although many universities have adjusted to the presence of intelligent and qualified immigrant children and teenagers, others have much more work to do. In a country based on a rich history of a wide variety of immigrants it seems ridiculous that higher educational institutions are biased against the large immigrant population that makes the United States so unique. Aside from being a large part of America’s past, immigrants are an essential part of its future. The youths that have lived and grown up here deserve the same opportunities to learn and develop skills to become productive members of society.

Finding and determining the specific universities that engage in prejudiced admissions processes is difficult. It is impossible to know how a university will treat its international applicants until an application has been sent in and paid for. Beyond that, applicants who face this type of discrimination are usually too timid or hesitant to speak out in almost a defeated resignation over the belief that their voices will be unheard. It is crucial that we stand up and speak out against the injustices against those around us.

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