Inequalities in college preparation


College admissions has become so competitive, with SATs, ACTs, extra curricular actives, community service, grade point averages, class ranks, and so many more aspects playing into the decision making process. However, some students are left at a disadvantage in many ways due to their socio-economic status. As college admissions becomes increasingly competitive, students (and in many cases, parents) are willing to do absolutely anything to gain admission into their dream school, no matter the cost.

Cost comes into play with this process in many ways. To begin monetarily, to even apply to most if not all colleges, there is a pricey application fee. This puts students who come from lower class backgrounds at a disadvantage because they may simply just not be able to afford applying to the schools they wish to attend. Although there are ways to waive this fee, some students may not know that this is an option. Another aspect of this cost is the time and monetary cost it takes to get transportation to take the college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Some students may not have a way to get to their testing location. Not to mention the lengths some parents will go to ensure that their child is best prepared to take these exams. Some families will hire an SAT or ACT tutor to essentially teach their child how to take the test. As you can imagine, this is extremely expensive, and is just not feasible for many families. This is where the inequality is very evident. Students who come from wealthier backgrounds can be essentially taught how to take these exams whereas lower-income students are left with studying for the exams on their own, if they can even afford to take them in the first place. On top of that, then these scores are compared to gain admission into colleges and universities around the nation. How is this fair? One child is taught to take the test, while another may not even have the money to buy a study book and attempt to teach it to themselves?

The cost of time that it takes to prepare for college admittance has become overwhelming as well. Students who want to attend almost any college need to have a resume that contains hundreds of community service hours in addition to extra curricular activities. For students who are required to work to help support their families, or those who need to take care of their younger siblings while their parents are at work, this is not feasible. The time commitment required to build up a resume has become absolutely ridiculous. This is not a fair way to compare students who may not have the time or money to participate in these types of activities. These situations also can affect the grades of students who come from lower-income families. While wealthier students may have the luxury of being able to come home from school to cooked dinner and can immediately get started on studying or homework, students from less wealthy backgrounds may have to cook their own dinner or work late hours before they can even begin studying, ultimately affecting the grades they make.

College admissions is far too competitive today. If we continue to compare students who cannot be compared due to their socio-economic status, we will keep putting lower-income students at a disadvantage. Some of the fees that are required to apply for colleges should be eliminated to in some way even out the opportunities available to all students. There needs to be a level playing field for all students. There is so much emphasis on these standardized tests and service hours that not everyone can participate in. In addition these aspects don’t even give admissions officers a true indicator of whether a child will succeed at the college they are applying. Reform of the current process of college admissions must happen so that all students can be provided equal opportunities.

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4 Responses to Inequalities in college preparation

  1. juniperonjupiter says:

    Hi Sydney, what an amazing post–great job! I would like to pass on something related to your post called “This Teacher Taught His Class A Powerful Lesson About Privilege
    (With a recycling bin and some scrap paper)”:

    I don’t know if it really happened, but it is an easily understandable metaphor for class privilege. In this story, a teacher tells his students to stay in their seats and try to throw a crumpled paper ball into the recycle bin at the front of the classroom. He tells his class this is a game and if they succeed they will make it into the upper class. Those at the front could make the basket easily, while those in the back had the unfair disadvantage of distance. Most of the ones in front made it, while only a few from the back row did. In this story, the people in front were not likely to complain or even notice their relative privilege, while the people in the back did notice how her away from the basket they were.

    Sound familiar? It sounds to me very much like what you are talking about. As you noted, the students logging their many community service and extracurricular hours and prepping for their SATs are working hard–but they are that much closer to the basket in the first place than the ones who have less family money, or who need to work for the income, or take care of younger siblings.

    I particularly liked what you said here: “How is this fair? One child is taught to take the test, while another may not even have the money to buy a study book and attempt to teach it to themselves?” Thank you so much for your thoughtful and passionate post!


    • sydneymitchell17 says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! The article you shared with me was really interesting.I think that this metaphor perfectly describes was I was talking about in this blog post. I think often times those who are privileged don’t even realize that they have an advantage over other students!


  2. claire.s says:

    Sydney! Just saw this article and thought of your post:
    Its an NYT article from Frank Bruni that talks about the privileges certain students have in the college admissions process that you so well articulated in your post. It offers a bit of hope for the future of college admissions and even quotes Stephen Farmer, the vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at UNC Chapel Hill (!!!!) on how UNC is shifting its focus in the admissions process away from standardized test scores and “AP everything” to be “humbler and more alert to the many ways in which people can stake a claim on a place here”. So awesome to have an important figure in admissions saying that UNC recognizes flaws in the process and is willing to make changes. The first step in making a change is an awareness of the problem, right?
    If this is the case, Bruni’s summary saying, “Colleges are becoming more conscious of their roles — too frequently neglected — in social mobility. They’re recognizing how many admissions measures favor students from affluent families” gives me hope for the future of college admissions!

    Just leaves me wondering…what would the ideal admissions process look like? How can we be aware of and account for privilege in the admissions process if we can’t even account for it in measures that are supposed to be objective like SAT and ACT test scores? I definitely don’t know the answers but hopefully having the discussion on the table and in the media is a start at wrestling with them


  3. Great post, Sydney!

    I thought your critique on opportunity for various students was very insightful. I especially liked how you looked beyond money and discussed how non-monetary factors can affect what a student can or cannot do. There are extra burdens and responsibilities certain students on the lower echelon of socioeconomic status have to surmount. A lot of these seem “invisible” because it is not something that is directly related to what a child can/cannot buy (tangible things), but what a child needs to give up, like ‘time’, as you mention. Another one is that typical minority students, especially poor minority students, have higher stress levels, which can also affect their performance at school. These stress levels can lead to mental health issues like depression or anxiety, and can drastically affect a student’s well-being.

    To answer your question of: “what would the ideal admissions process look like?” I recently read this amazing article by Michele Hernandez, an old admissions officer at Dartmouth. She says that top colleges should not focus on SAT/PSAT scores, seeing as they are heavily related to socioeconomic status. Another interesting point she brought us was that top universities should focus more on socioeconomic background, instead of race when doing affirmative action. Hernandez says, “To address affirmative action, colleges should rely on a socioeconomic flag for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which would take race out of the equation.” What do you think on this process? Here’s the link for more info:


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