As a result of the recent U.S. college admissions scam that’s been unveiled, I’m wondering just how low those students’ SAT and ACT scores could have possibly been that their parents felt they needed to buy higher scores. It amuses me to think about how those parents were unaware that top test scores weren’t necessary to get their children into most of America’s elite schools. Their children already had what they needed to get in: crazy rich parents.
I went through the college admissions process with my two children almost ten years ago. I wanted to believe that my children’s stellar academic performance and test scores, which placed them in the top 0.78% and 0.175% of their American peers, would grant them admission to any of the Ivy League schools on their radar screens—or at least one of the schools. We visited all of the elite schools my daughter and son wanted to apply to, and I knew my children had what it would take to succeed in those rigorous academic environments. But, as soon as I saw the private school application forms, I suspected that my kids didn’t have what it would take to open the doors to the postsecondary education they desired: rich parents who had attended Ivy League schools.
Based on the questions on the forms, it became clear to me that legacy preference was occurring at my children’s top-choice schools and that money mattered. The questions asked where my children’s parents attended school, what we did for a living, and how much money we made. I only had a BA degree from a Minnesota liberal arts college. Because of an autoimmune disease, I had been a stay-at-home mom so I could devote the energy I had to nurturing my intellectually gifted children—whose needs weren’t adequately met at the public school they attended. My husband is a brilliant software engineer, but he had attended a Minnesota state school for his BS degree. He had a great income, but was the sole earner, so we were extremely middle class compared to the typical two-income family. Unfortunately we provided a profile that indicated my children lacked a desirable pedigree and had parents who would not be donating buildings—or any amount of money—to our children’s future schools. I sensed that the questions about my children’s family were significant and that our background could potentially keep our children from entering into the future they were deserving of, but I didn’t make my children aware of this. During the application process, I adopted the “American Dream” stance and preached that, because my kids worked hard throughout their academic careers and were geniuses (literally), they were deserving of the opportunity to walk on any academic path they chose in the United States.
The admissions response to my children’s college applications made me look like a liar. As my kids were rejected and wait-listed by their top-choice schools, I felt personally responsible. It was clear that not even having a perfect score on ACT and SAT tests would provide academic entrance without the money and pedigree that those schools desired to use as a gold plated doorstop.
Going through the college application process was a learning experience for me. I discovered that America’s higher education system is what I would call broken, unfair, rigged … Though not their top-choice schools, my children ended up going to excellent schools that have been highly ranked according to a variety of standards. I appreciated that my son was admitted to one of few meritocracy based schools in this country. It meant that the admissions team recognized his academic excellence and his potential to be an excellent college student. His school didn’t care about athletics and it didn’t care if children had alumni parents. The school also did not care how much money we had because they didn’t need our money. The school receives significant government, corporate, and private funding. As a result of its academic focus, the school has produced researchers who have made significant contributions to our country and to the world. Isn’t that what postsecondary education should be about? I don’t understand why every school in America doesn’t strive to be like my son’s school.
Almost a decade after my enlightenment concerning the postsecondary world, I’m feeling grateful toward those crazy rich parents who inadvertently called attention to the brokenness of higher education. Thankfully, they were ignorant enough to believe that buying higher test scores would make any difference in a system that is mostly about where children come from, instead of where they are capable of going.
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