The “back doors” of college admissions are still wide open

yli is My Story
Mason jar full of 20 dollar bills with a tag reading "college" and a drawing of a graduation cap. The jar is sitting on more bills and has a stack of books behind it.

As I wait for my college decision letters, I have to keep in mind how unfair the system behind those rejections or acceptances is. In 2019, the “Varsity Blues” scandal sent shock waves through the education world. Over thirty wealthy and affluent parents collectively paid more than 25 million dollars from 2011-2018 to inflate their children’s exam scores, bribe college officials, and ultimately buy acceptance letters to the most prestigious schools in America for their kids.

Although the parents of these students were prosecuted and charged for their crimes, the wide open “back door” for wealthy students was never shut. Today, while it may not be a major scandal or illegal crime, money is one of the biggest factors in college admissions.

Most students do everything they can to get into their dream schools; students earn good grades, take rigorous classes, and balance multiple extracurriculars to even have a slim chance of getting into a prestigious university, but one factor that no one can change is their financial background.

Personally, financial aid is one of the biggest factors in my college list. My financial background touches every part of my application from the AP exams I couldn’t take because of the high prices to the myriad of activities I could not put on my resume because I had to look over my siblings.

Graduation cap resting on one hundred dollar bills concept for the cost of a college and university education.

Finance influences every part of the college process and is arguably the biggest deciding factor. From not being able to pay for SAT tutoring to little things like the price of sending a college application to each university, your financial situation dominates your college admission chances.

Daniel Telfer has a lot of experience in the college admissions process. As a teacher and counselor at Summit Prep high school, Mr. Telfer gave insight into just how big of a role financial situations play in the college admissions game.

“Students who need to help provide [for their families] will always have more burden in the time that they are allowed because the opportunity cost of having a job for someone who’s affluent is incredibly low.” Telfer continued, “There’s also things like the greatest differential in whether or not you will do well on the SATs is whether or not your parents can afford to put you in an SAT class.”

Students who have to juggle work to contribute to their households can’t take all the classes or participate in all the extracurricular activities that financially stable students can, whether that’s taking an extra AP class or pursuing an unpaid internship. Money buys the best tutors for standardized tests, which in turn buys the best scores that colleges use to measure the “academic ability” of a student when really the SAT is one of the biggest measures of wealth.

Gisselle Penuela Solis is a first generation college student and a high school Senior applying to college this November. Outside of school, Solis works part time to support her family. “This year, I realized that my resume wasn’t big enough for the college I want to go to. So I had to apply to more things. But then when the places I applied to told me exactly what I needed to do and when I asked for those days off, they weren’t given to me.”

Sign reading "student" rests on the ground near a plate full of coins, indicating poor students begging for funds.

Solis is one of many students whose applications were made weaker because of their financial background. But it’s not just students who suffer from the tight hold money has on college admissions. Mr. Telfer went on to explain how high schools in low-income neighborhoods are victim to this dynamic.

“Property value directly goes into how much money a school will have in the public system based on that, that school can provide resources, pay teachers better, and make classrooms better.” Mr. Telfer went on to say, “Teaching is one of the only industries where the lowest paid and the least capable teachers are sent to the kids who are most in need, the kids who are working in the conditions for the lowest success rates, that’s almost the only time that experts are shuttled away to the students or, in this case, the demographic that needs it the least.”

With colleges becoming more competitive than ever, students like me from low income backgrounds will receive more rejection letters than any other time in history. Ultimately, this system perpetuates a cycle of poverty, as students from families with low income households and low paying jobs will be left degreeless and forced to continue that pattern.