College Admissions: New Opportunities

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Top universities pride themselves on creating diverse learning environments where students of different ethnicities and backgrounds can come together. Over the past few decades, colleges have been increasingly more diligent about aiding minority groups, developing affirmative action programs, and creating reliable support systems for all students. However, the college admissions process is still systematically set up so that wealthier applicants and legacies (i.e. children of alumni) are more likely to be accepted into college than their peers in the bottom socioeconomic quartile.

For years, colleges have given legacy students preferential treatment during the application process. In fact, it is seven times more likely for a legacy to be accepted than an ordinary student applying. One of the main reasons for this is because alumni donations are the single largest source of revenue (outside of tuition) at most colleges and universities. It also happens that most alumni children tend to be white and from wealthy backgrounds. According to a recent study by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, only 3% of the undergraduate class at the most prestigious universities are from the bottom income quartile. That means that the majority of students at top colleges are middle class or wealthy. College admission deans argue that legacy ranks will become more diverse over time, but the data thus far has not supported this claim.

In addition to not having the advantage of legacy status, most low-income students are more likely to attend under-resourced high schools where they are less likely to have access to advanced classes or support services. While affluent students can afford tutors to help them receive higher test scores and grades, poorer students don’t necessarily have the money for prep courses and private tutors. Students whose families have the means can take standardized tests multiple times to improve their score. However, most low-income students don’t have the money to take college entrance exams more than once, which also might make it difficult for them to get into top schools.

Low-income students often receive insufficient and uniformed guidance about colleges and the application process, and counselors will often sway students in the wrong direction when assisting them in college applications. It’s hard to imagine, especially since MHS is such a supportive school, but some guidance counselors in low-income schools may not have the time or resources themselves to guide their students as effectively as wealthier districts.

While applying early decision is a great strategy for students who want to have a better chance at getting into a particular school, it is not always an option for students who need financial aid. Low-income students have to search for the best financial aid package, a long and difficult process. Sadly, many of these students can’t commit to applying E.D. without knowing what type of aid they will get beforehand. Students who are just as intelligent end up going to colleges with less resources, lower graduation rates, fewer high-paying job prospects, and limited access to leadership roles. Smart students in lower socioeconomic areas are slipping through the cracks. Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Virginia-based foundation stated that someone who is a low-income student and is “performing at the highest levels is someone who is beating the odds. And they should be recognized for it.”

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