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College Admissions: Call for a True Meritocracy

Earlier this year, a dramatic college admissions scandal was brought to light. According to the investigation, parents bribed college coaches, administrative board members, and ACT proctors to help their children attend elite universities.

Although some details are yet to be uncovered, one thing is clear: wealthy Americans used their income to give their children advantages in the college admission process. The rich perpetuate inequality by utilizing their financial privilege for better schools and tutors, thwarting the meritocratic process of education in America.

Privilege is a mechanism that allows elites to gain access to prestigious institutions. The divergent high schools and college application experiences exemplify the importance of privilege.

I went to a private, elite, and majority Caucasian high school. Although I am a person of color, the school’s pristine college advisers, well-known reputation, and required ACT preparation sessions helped me understand the college process better than my peers in the school district. Take for example my sisters who attended the local public high school; their college advisers were assigned to over 100 students, their classmates rarely applied to out-of-state universities, and their only option for standardized test preparation was to hire an expensive tutor.

Although we were siblings and went through identical processes, I understood the college admissions process much better such as how to use my fee waivers. Simply because of my high school, I had benefits that put me at a higher advantage than my sisters. Although these advantages do not guarantee admission to an elite school, it gives privileged students a head start in the college admissions process.

These advantages are not just felt by my family. Gerald Bradshaw, a college admissions coach at Bradshaw College Consulting, wrote that although good grades and extracurricular activities will “always resonate with college admissions counselors,” the high school you attend “will make a huge difference in your admission chances [to an Ivy League school].” Merit alone does not guarantee an equal chance of attending your dream school. Privilege is the key.

Low- and High-Income Students

Having privilege enhances students’ qualifications and creates biases from the admissions board. Wealth can buy many advantages for students: an ACT tutor, a spot in a private high school, and access to college-admissions consultants.

However, according to a Joyce Foundation study on the finances behind balancing low- and high-income out-of-state applicants, your wealth can bias an admissions board. According to the study, college admission boards prioritize “affluent students and are biased against low-income students.”

Although low-income students may benefit universities, they are discriminated against due to the cost they have to the university. Keep in mind, this study is about public universities, not elite or Ivy League schools. Students with the privilege of being born in a wealthy family have a head start reaching their goal of attending college.

Low-Income Programs

Finally, it is important to understand what a low-income program is and to discuss the myths surrounding their ability to level the playing field between low-income and wealthy applicants.

Low-income programs, such as Questbridge, Equal Opportunity Schools, and National College Access Network, aim to help low-income students access higher education. They recommend that colleges consider the students and their qualifications carefully.

For example, Questbridge is a popular program which gives students the chance of being “matched” with a participating university. Having “Questbridge” on a student’s application shows that they are both high-achieving and low-income. From personal experience in the program, it seemed to help. I was able to receive a better financial aid package due to being a Questbridge scholar, and my siblings had similar success.

Flaws of Low-Income Programs

However, this program has a lower acceptance rate than some public universities. Additionally, the steps required to apply to this program would be convoluted if not helped by a private college counselor. The program’s application requires your family’s financial information, academic records, test scores, and multiple reflection essays. Additionally, if you are selected to become a “finalist,” financial benefits are not guaranteed, only a higher chance.

According to Questbridge’s statistics, of their 60,000 total finalists, 35 percent are admitted to a participating university, and only 8.6 percent are given a full scholarship. Thus, only 8.6 percent of finalists are guaranteed a significant financial aid package while the rest are at the whim of the universities. For example, Equal Opportunity Schools gives low-income students access to Advanced Placement courses and pre-professional programs, but they do not guarantee either a feasible financial aid package or unbiased consideration from the universities.

Although these are beneficial programs, they are unable to help the majority of low-income students. These third-party programs are not a solution to inequality. The quality of education drastically differs between school districts, thus certain low-income students may be better qualified for these programs over those who attended an under-financed public school.

These programs are a temporary solution to the problems that exist in universities across the nation. Only a few thousand students nationwide receive the benefits of these programs. These programs do not guarantee financial support; it is up to the university to consider these low-income students more carefully. This only levels the playing field for a small subset of the thousands of students in need.

Furthermore, because the programs are so selective, they create competition among low-income students, dividing those who are scholars of the programs and the many other low-income students who did not have the resources to know about such programs.

Lack of Privilege

Low-income students’ merits are discriminated against due to their lack of privilege. Wealthy college applicants are not only able to afford better schools and tutors, but their affluence plays to the bias of college admission boards. Although this has been seen in the dramatic college admission scandal, it is a problem seen every year in universities nationwide.

Low-income students should not be a statistic needed to fill a quota; rather they should be considered equally and without discrimination of their born situation. However, in America, the meritocracy of college admissions has been overshadowed by the privilege of the wealthy.


DISCLAIMER! The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The College Post.

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