The months spent filling out college applications may very well have been some of the most stressful months of your high school career. The amalgamation of required essays, grades, GPA’s, SAT scores, and extracurricular activities was overwhelming; at some point, they probably left you doubting whether you were good enough to be accepted into your dream school. Do all of these numbers, words, and scores, actually matter as much universities claim they do?
Unfortunately, the college admissions system is far from perfect. Like most aspects of American life, it is troubled by various inequalities, like class.
In order to get a better look inside the workings of the application process, I interviewed Josh Mound, a journalist and professor at the University of Virginia. Mound currently teaches a course called “America Unequal” as part of the new Engagements program at the University.
“For first-generation and other less-advantaged students, everything about the application process — the essays, the recommendations, the FAFSA — can be overwhelming,” said Mound. “Because they usually don’t have family members who’ve successfully navigated the process to rely on, they must turn to high school counselors, who are often overworked and unable to give each student the time they deserve.”
If these students are able to receive help with the college application process, they then must come face-to-face with the largest obstacle: money.
“The [price of college] discourages students from poor and working-class backgrounds who might be eligible for aid, but not realize it; [this is] due to opaque funding information,” explained Mound. “As a result, many students from underrepresented groups either aim too low or give up completely. [This is why] colleges must be more transparent in terms of their likely bottom-line costs.”
The fact that thousands of low-income high school students miss their chance to receive a quality college education is startling in itself, but what about all of the students who did make it to college? What were the deciding factors that made the application reviewers think, this is someone I want attending this school?
If you are wealthy, you automatically have a better chance of getting into college, for reasons besides simply having a lot of money.
“Standardized test scores rise in tandem with their family income, so they’re often measuring privilege [instead of] talent,” said Mound. “Moreover, many studies have found that other factors, like high school GPA, predict college success better than SAT or ACT scores. As a result, some universities are moving away from requiring them, which I think is a positive step.”
Universities preach ‘inclusivity’, but to practice it, they must take steps like lowering overall expenses and taking unfair biases out of the application process.
“Inequalities in higher education are ultimately the result of our vastly unequal K-12 system,” said Mound. “The country should move away from misguided education “reform” ideas that focus on testing alone and limit poor students’ exposure to the types of enriching activities that good schools take for granted. We also should invest more in counseling resources to help first-generation students navigate the application process.”