The immense pressure and anxiety that accompanies applying for college cannot be understated. While the recency of the experience of college admissions varies around campus, all of us can definitely remember the grind of application essays, the scramble for resume fillers and the nausea that decision day brought. Even then, acceptance didn’t guarantee attendance for many, as cost considerations and financial aid could still be ambiguous.
Now, imagine being in a situation where all of these factors were muted or, in some cases, nonexistent. Your resume and test scores were perfect, your admission was guaranteed and, most importantly, cost of attendance didn’t impact you in the slightest.
The college admissions scandal that broke this past week gave everyone a look into such a reality. We saw numerous examples of students, who already benefit from the vast wealth of their families, have any remaining obstacles eliminated for them. Their transcripts were boosted, and they were assigned false athletic ability; anything that would give them unhindered opportunities for acceptance. With the help of their parents’ money, they became the perfect prospective students.
While these revelations were shocking to many across the country, a large contingency of college students saw the scandal as unsurprising. College always has, and probably always will, benefit those with the resources and access to the best opportunities.
These pay-to-play stories are just a more conspicuous event within casual elitism that plagues college admissions.
It’s easy to get lost in these bribery incidents because we have specific people to pin our frustration on. A bunch of rich parents from around the country used sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to enhance the benefits their kids already had. We’ve suddenly got specific people that we can label as part of the problem, which is always nice with how the frustration from admissions lingers.
But focusing only on the people who offered the money takes blame away from those who accepted it: the college coaches, William Singer and his college counseling business, and, perhaps most importantly, the schools that allowed such blatant offenses to go unnoticed. In the end, the story returns our attention to the sheer power that money and influence have in college admissions and the way the system advantages those that need the least help.
Applying for college does not, in and of itself, require any sort of money. But being in a position to apply to the best schools, or have the best chance of getting into the ones that interest you, is not something everyone has access to. Even sending in an application may not be possible for all, if you can’t secure fee waivers or afford enough test reports for schools that require them.
What gets put in that application, however, is an entirely different issue. Now, it isn’t enough to just be an outstanding student in the classroom. You will also need to be an athlete, have community service experience and have other unique extracurriculars that make you more special than the next student. All the while, you have to find time to prepare for standardized tests that don’t necessarily correlate with academic achievement.
The students most equipped for the seemingly endless process of college admissions are those who attend preparatory academies or well-funded public schools. They will meet often with dedicated guidance counselors or have access to ACT and SAT preparation courses that boost their scores and overall chance of attending high-ranking universities.
There are many students in the U.S. who don’t get the guidance they need to consolidate their activities and academics into an effective package for admissions counselors. That is if they get encouragement to do so from their teachers and school counselors at all. For those that do come from these more humble situations, they have to prove their socioeconomic or community disadvantage was severe enough for them to be worthy of an exclusive institution.
This isn’t to say that prestigious schools haven’t made efforts to encourage socioeconomic diversity on their campuses. Especially in terms of financial aid, many schools, like Case Western Reserve University, have attempted to do better in terms of meeting the need of those they admit. But still, cost of attendance still remains a problem for those that do get into the most prestigious schools. They will often be surrounded by students who don’t have as many monetary struggles and will themselves have to take out loans.
These students do have other options, though, in community colleges, which tend to have more resources in place for less well-off students. Many also have programs that allow you to transfer to four-year universities. Still, the fact that a lack of wealth would be what causes qualified students to attend a less prestigious program is incredibly problematic.
Whether we want to admit it or not, money still is at the center of getting into and going to a high-tier college. What this scandal with admissions revealed, however, is that it may be even more important than we could have even imagined.