This could be some commentary about the difference in education styles between the so-called East and West, but really, it singularly underscored my great advantage. My math (in)ability could be due to a lack of either studying or natural skill, but as for English, no amount of studying or natural skill on her part could compare to my native English-speaking background. The University admittedly looks at applications holistically and takes into account these sorts of factors, but even the most generous admissions officer could not offer a spot to a student with poor English. How would one write a compelling college essay anyway? The reason for this selectivity is obvious: Attending a premier English-language university requires more than just a working knowledge of English.
However, restricting acceptance to native and near-native speakers of English hampers the diversity of the international community at Princeton. Access to English instruction in many parts of the world is a privilege reserved for the upper echelons. As such, internationals at Princeton tend to be a rather wealthy group who have attended either an international school at home or a boarding school in an English-speaking country abroad. Despite Princeton’s impressive list of student nationalities, international students generally find we share a similar educational background and a more Westernized cultural experience. Only those that attend an international school are likely to have even heard of SAT. Only those attending an international school will know that a U.S. college essay is about your heart — not your brain, like it is for applications in essentially every other country. But, at least in theory, anyone with an Internet connection can get a sense of what is required if they start researching well ahead. In contrast, simply not being born into an English-speaking environment, or not having parents who can afford international-school or boarding-school tuition, makes acceptance to this University nearly impossible for an international student.
There are, no doubt, exceptions to this rule. For this Princeton relies on feeders, one of which is a network of schools I attended: United World College. UWC offers two-year scholarships to students from 140 countries; Princeton has undergraduate students from about 60 countries. Drawing applications directly from local school communities around the world is, though not perfect, the best effort at meritocracy and internationalism I know. English was not an admissions requirement, and within two years of English immersion at these schools students could at least pass their IB diploma. My classmates included a Western Saharan who grew up in a refugee camp in Algeria and an Afghani Hazara who traveled to Kabul to take his admissions exam in the safety of the Canadian embassy. They were quite directly deemed to be the smartest of their countries. After two years, a UWC scholarship would put them in the playing field for U.S. college admissions, but those of us with extensive English instruction had the clear upper hand. Despite now feeling quite capable at Princeton, I sometimes found it hard to feel unambiguously deserving of a Princeton acceptance in comparison with peers like them. At Princeton, one classmate strangely called me the “most exotic white person I know,” but my life pales in comparison to their stories of great personal triumph. A lack of English ability settled the fate of their applications to Ivy League universities. In the end, they were accepted to American universities, and this is already a great gain in their education, but couldn’t Princeton gain from having more students like them?
I propose that Princeton adopt an English foundation program. A number of well-regarded British universities, such as Edinburgh, offer admission to international students on the condition that students successfully complete a year-long or two-year-long intensive academic English program at the university before starting their degrees. This allows universities to accept students based on merit even if their TOEFL scores do not meet expectations. Princeton could take pride in being the first Ivy League to offer such a program, and Princeton seems to have the resources to implement it. While we often focus on domestic diversity at Princeton and lump all internationals together as one homogeneous category of diversity, Princeton could put a greater effort into increasing its pool of eligible international students to those not fortunate enough to enjoy the privilege of English-language instruction.
William Beacom is a sophomore from Calgary, Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.