When it comes to college applications, money is power


Graphic by Stella Schwartzman

Leah Carrier

Over the past few years, the prestigious worlds of Harvard, The University of Southern California, and other universities have been clouded with news of internal corruption. But while extreme levels of bribery dominated news coverage, it’s actually just one symptom of a system that consistently favors those with exorbitant means. 

The media put these flawed administrative practices under a magnifying glass when it uncovered multiple cases of wealthy parents using their money to influence their child’s way into college. There are obvious ethical and moral flaws with bribery. But in this context, it applies to a whole different set of social standards that make the scandal so controversial.

Look no further than the case of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide, whose admission to Harvard was linked with his father’s allegedly coincidental $2.5 million donation to the school. What happens to the other thousands of equally, if not more, qualified applicants who don’t happen to have a couple million dollars laying around?

As many Wilson students know, every detail counts when applying to colleges. Even before their parents start cheating the system, students of rich families have a leg up in the process. While many kids have to care for siblings or work to support their families, others attend boarding school and expensive SAT prep classes. These advantages all factor into a student’s likelihood of being accepted into their preferred college.

So, it should not be a surprise that when it comes time for admissions staff to decide which applicants to accept, poorer students are at a disadvantage. On one hand, there are the kids whose parents invested thousands into their higher education, preparing them with a personal tutor, special summer camps, and a network of successful mentors. On the other hand, there are the kids who’ve fought tooth and nail to make it out of their rabbit hole, only to realize that their competitors have the power of money in their grasp. Because history has favored the wallets of white families, race is consequently linked with a student’s future in college.

In today’s society, the ‘brand name’ of the college matters almost as much as the education you get there, especially in the highly competitive job market. Statistically, Ivy League graduates have an average annual income approximately $38,000 more than a student attending another college. Hence, the general cycle is born: kid gets good primary school education because rich parents can afford to support them. Kid gets into a good college, maybe with financial influence from parents. Kid graduates and becomes rich parent, and so on.

 It should be noted that some credit is due to colleges that are making an effort to fix the unbalanced system. But clearly, they’re not working, partly due to the fact that advantaged people don’t like giving away their upper hand. 

It’s time to level the playing field. Let’s change the narrative—change it so that your academic achievement doesn’t depend on who your parents are, where you live, what color your skin is, or what you believe in. That means we’re going to have to spend a decent amount of money re-sowing the seeds of the US public school system so that everyone can access quality primary education all the way through high school. That way, when college admissions staff look at a student’s application, all they will judge is their abilities, straight up. •