Classism in the College Process

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Fall of senior year is consumed with talks about the notorious Process, in school and out. The beginning of senior year is marked by student-parent meetings and workshops where seniors can get feedback on their college essays from actual admissions counselors. In spring of junior year, each student is assigned a college counselor to help them while they apply to colleges, who produces lists of realistic potential colleges based on the student’s academics and interests, and later may even help students read over essays and prep for interviews. This fall, there was a whole senior seminar class geared towards the critical mass of students applying to University of Maryland, College Park. Students were encouraged, if not told, to apply Priority, the earlier deadline, because the percentage of students admitted who apply Priority is so much higher than that of the Regular Decision — if students weren’t told, how would they know? I probably wouldn’t have known, and the chances of a student at another school, with more students and college guidance counselors overwhelmed with advisees, are slim as well. At Friends Upper School there is hand-holding throughout the college process, a privilege that many students may not think about.

Nationwide, college admissions aren’t as simple as the “right” extracurriculars, good scores, and a good essay or two. Thoughtful teacher recommendations and knowledge about the most logical colleges for a given student are important when a high schooler is considering which colleges to apply to.

While, in the past, discrimination in college admissions has been largely attributed to race,research suggests that socioeconomic standing has more of an impact. Fewer students of lower socioeconomic standing are enrolling in colleges because of financial issues, the mere fact that information about the application process isn’t made available, or they aren’t accepted by the colleges that they apply to. There are few colleges that are need-blind. Need-blind schools admit students without considering their financial standing, and meet all demonstrated need, which can be found using a Financial Aid Calculator to find the Estimated Family Contribution (amount of money that the family can contribute towards the student’s tuition). To boot, schools that are need-blind and full-need are often those with the lowest acceptance rates. Filling out an application to college can take hours in itself, but financial aid has separate forms, like the FAFSA and CSS profiles, that schools require to be considered for aid. With the crushing burden of student loans, college isn’t feasible for many people without financial aid. Early decision increases a student’s chances of getting into a school, but when the decision of whether or not to go to a college depends so heavily on financial aid packages, it’s unreasonable for a student to sign a binding agreement to enroll (even if it is possible to break an ED agreement for financial reasons). Early decision acceptances can provide roughly a third of the incoming freshman class, so students for whom it would be financially irresponsible to apply ED have to apply later and compete for the remaining spots.
Students from families of higher socioeconomic standing are more likely to have parents who went to college, and have the chance to apply to a school as a “legacy,” increasing their chances of acceptance. Additionally, those students likely have families that can afford classes in standardized test prep, a huge leg up in determining whether or not that student will be “looked at” by admissions counselor if their scores are within the “acceptable range.” In short, the college process is most definitely classist, and students at Friends School, who get a few seminar classes on standardized test prep, specialized attention from teachers, and guidance throughout the application process, should be grateful for the advantages that those things imply. Although college applications can seem like a pain, they’re relatively easy with all of the help that we get.

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Classism in the College Process