Family wealth and admission


It’s breaking news!!! The admissions process isn’t fair! I know so because The Washington Post had a big article recently (ok, April, but I’ll admit I didn’t notice until one of our readers forwarded it to me for comment) on the subject. Their intrepid reporter, after what I’m sure was a grueling round of research involving at least three phone calls, uncovered the previously untold story that rich kids have an advantage in the admissions process.

I know, shocking. Take a moment to recover your composure. I’ll wait.

The article specifically cites the advantage that rich kids have on the SAT, blaming access to test preparation courses. The author fails to mention that 1) the SAT isn’t NEARLY as important to the admissions process as the reporter seems to think or that 2) the rich are advantaged in the admissions process for a whole bunch of OTHER reasons.

Even those of you who don’t get to obsess about admissions the way I do are probably able to guess that access to tutors, not just test tutors but the kind that might actually teach you stuff; personal college counseling; parents who have been through the system (or better yet, are graduates of your dream school; or even better have their name on a building at your dream school) is likely to give one a leg up over less affluent applicants.

Worse, the article totally misses one of the great secrets of the admissions process – that there are many competitive institutions that actually look at higher family income as a plus factor in the admissions process. This started a few years back when the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, of which I am a proud and long-time member, decided that we really liked rich kids. I’m kidding of course (mostly). The discussion was actually focused on whether admissions offices could use financial aid data in the admissions process.

Once upon a time, admissions offices were supposed to be “need-blind.” This meant that we were supposed to evaluate students based on their academic records (or jump shot), and not on how much an applicant might be able to pay. Some very good-hearted people claimed this made admissions way too hard since they ended up admitting way too many students without money that needed way too much financial aid, which meant less money for everyone. So instead, said these Samaritans, we will review their financial aid information and admit fewer of the really poor kids (or more of the really wealthy ones) – that way everyone has more money. Isn’t that wonderful!?

If you find the math doesn’t work for you, you’re not alone. Soon, however, you’ll go to college where you’ll learn “numbers” can be guided by “spin”.

To be fair, most colleges really are still need-blind…usually. Where you see the most impact of the change is in waitlist decisions: students with high need may be disadvantaged, especially in a year like this one when many schools went very deep into their aid budgets to try to attract their top recruits. A handful, however (and these are generally not the more moderately priced institutions), use income aggressively in the admissions process right from the start. Mason, I’m proud to say, remains need-blind in our admissions process, but there’s no doubt that the market pressure to make changes in the policy are an annual consideration.

So to recap – money good. More money better. Talent best of all. Be seeing you.

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