He had perfect scores - on his SAT, on three SAT subject tests and on nine Advanced Placement exams - and was ranked first in his high school class of 592. An admissions officer who reviewed his application to Harvard called him "the proverbial picket fence," the embodiment of the American dream, saying, "Someone we'll fight over w/ Princeton, I'd guess."
But in the end, the student was wait-listed and did not get in.
Generations of high school students have applied to Harvard thinking that if they checked all the right boxes, they would be admitted.
But behind the curtain, Harvard's much-feared admissions officers have a whole other set of boxes that few ambitious high school students and their parents know about - or could check even if they did. The officers speak a secret language - of "dockets," "the lop list," "tips," "DE," the "Z-list" and the "dean's interest list" - and maintain a culling system in which factors like where applicants are from, whether their parents went to Harvard, how much money they have and how they fit the school's goals for diversity may be just as important as scoring a perfect 1600 on the SAT.
This arcane selection process has been illuminated by a lawsuit accusing Harvard of violating federal civil rights law by using racial balancing to shape its admissions in a way that discriminates against Asian-Americans. Harvard says it does not discriminate. Hundreds of admissions documents have been filed in the suit - over the university's objections that they could reveal trade secrets - and many sections that were previously redacted have been ordered unsealed in recent weeks.
The lawsuit, brought by an anti-affirmative action group called Students for Fair Admissions, has revived the national debate over race-conscious admissions, which is playing out from colleges down to elementary schools.
这场诉讼由一个名为大学生公平录取(Student for Fair Admissions)的反歧视行动小组提起，它重新启动了在入学录取时考虑种族因素的全国性辩论，其范围涵盖了从大学直到小学。
Harvard says it also considers "tips," or admissions advantages, for some applicants. The plaintiffs say the college gives tips to five groups: racial and ethnic minorities; legacies, or the children of Harvard or Radcliffe alumni; relatives of a Harvard donor; the children of staff or faculty members; and recruited athletes.
Whether Harvard gives a penalty - in effect, the opposite of a tip - to Asian-Americans goes to the heart of the current litigation. A 1990 report by the Education Department found that Harvard was not giving tips for being Asian-American. A 2013 internal report by Harvard found that being Asian-American was negatively correlated with admission, as did an expert analysis for the plaintiffs. But using a different statistical approach, Harvard's expert found a modest bump for two subgroups of Asian-Americans - women and applicants from California - belying, Harvard said, the overall claim of discrimination.
In a response filed in court Friday, Harvard said that all information in an application file is considered during the lop, and that lopping is not used to control the racial makeup of the class.
The plaintiffs say that the personal rating - which considers an applicant's character and personality - is the most insidious of Harvard's admissions metrics. They say that Asian-Americans are routinely described as industrious and intelligent, but unexceptional and indistinguishable - characterizations that recall painful stereotypes for many people of Asian descent. (The applicant who was the "proverbial picket fence" was Asian-American.)
Khurana, the Harvard College dean, acknowledged that Harvard was not always perfect, but said it was trying to get its practices right.
I have a great deal of humility knowing that some day history will judge us, Khurana said. "I think that's why we are constantly asking ourselves this question: How can we do better? How could we be better? What are we missing? Where are our blind spots?"