College Admissions: "It's Not Fair!"​ - So Stop Blaming the Parents

It's true. 


Inequities exist in the college admissions process and on college campuses. Inequities exist in the job market, in the marketplace, and throughout society, as a whole. Lamenting these inequities, however, does absolutely nothing to prepare young adults for what's next. 

Repeatedly, analysts and pundits slam privilege and the inequities afforded upper- and upper-middle class applicants. These aspiring young adults did not create the inequities; a vast majority do not enjoy overt benefits from these inequities. Few young adults - whether privileged or not - get into Ivy League schools. Relatively few get accepted into all of the programs to which they apply. Most work very hard to earn their college admissions. Blaming the vast majority of parents who want the very best for their children - who do not cheat, who do not scheme, who do not manipulate the system - but who apply their resources and energy to guiding their children to reach their full potential - is not only counterproductive - it is wrong. Good, committed parents do what they can to raise their children and to provide opportunities for success; that's what parents do.  


Moreover, let's take a look, for a moment, at how the overwhelming majority of young adults gain admission to a most- or highly-selective college or university. They earn excellent grades in difficult classes at high-caliber schools. They participate actively (and often excel) in athletics and extracurricular activities. Their peers recognize them as leaders; as such, they serve as student body, class, and club officers. They are active in their communities and engage in substantive service projects. In their "spare" time, they complete SAT/ACT prep courses and often take dual enrollment courses. They are everything we want but, sadly, too seldom see in matriculating college freshmen. 


Neither they - nor their parents - paid millions in bribes or committed felonies. Their parents did not donate a building or endow a chair or purchase naming rights to a state-of-the-art athletics facility. No. These young adults identified what they had to do to achieve their goal - and they did it.  And, yes, their parents helped them. That's what good parents do. These parents made conscious decisions to allocate resources in time, energy - and, yes, money to help facilitate their young adults' success. 


Note the "help" that modifies "facilitate."  This is an important distinction. Good parents do not "snowplow" or "hover" or "mow down" - or whatever this week's latest buzzword happens to be. Rather, they assessed the insanity (and inanity) of the college admissions market, prioritized academic and soft-skill development, and mentored, coached (and, dare I say) parented their young adults to help them achieve their goals. Again, they committed no crimes. They offered no bribes. They bought no buildings. They parented.


And these young adults of so-called privilege face obstacles, too. Very few students get into all of the schools to which they apply - no matter how hard they have worked, no matter how "strong" their file is. Very few gain admission to a most-selective program. Sometimes, there's no reason for their rejection beyond the fact that they did not meet a particular class demographic marker - say, a red-headed tuba player from South Carolina who excels in Model UN.  If a school has already filled that desired attribute - the second-ranked red-headed tuba player from South Carolina who excels in Model UN will have to find another undergraduate home.  You can poo-poo this rejection as "too bad - so sad" - but these rejections hurt.


Still others get into excellent programs their families cannot afford.  The average 4-year retail cost of a most- or highly-selective private college hovers in the mid $300,000 range. A vast majority of American families simply cannot afford to pay this bill - regardless of the grants, scholarships, and waivers many of these private schools offer.  This, too, hurts - when a young adult knows she "belongs" at a Bucknell or a Colgate or a Middlebury or a Davidson - but simply cannot afford it.  Do not minimize or scoff at this pain. It is very real to that young adult - regardless of the privilege or the relative wealth and comfort of his or her upbringing.  

Rather than judge and lash out at these parents and young adults for maximizing their opportunities, we should - as a society - work to afford similar opportunities to those who currently stand very little chance of attaining similar success.  We need more coaching and mentoring - from an early age - in low-income and under-resourced school districts. We must work to mitigate the link between property taxes and quality schools. Too many bright, engaged, motivated, and deserving young adults have virtually no chance of securing a spot in a most- or a highly-selective university. They simply do not have the resources. Their schools and communities do not offer the opportunities to establish the resume demanded by today's admissions algorithms. This is not their fault. 


Neither, however, is it the fault of the dual-income, active, and engaged upper-middle class family who prioritizes their children's education and skills development. It is not easy for that working mother and father - who make (and oh, by the way, have worked very hard to earn) an excellent salary - to plan their lives down to the millisecond and to juggle competing priorities to ensure their young adults have access to the academic, athletic, and extracurricular activities and the developmental coaching and mentoring to position themselves for success in today's increasingly complex academic and professional marketplace. These families sacrifice, too.  They do not let today get in the way of tomorrow.  

And yet, I have had clients actually feel ashamed or like they have to apologize for seeking the very best for their children. They know inequities exist. We discuss these inequities. 

And then we get to work preparing their young adults for what's next. Because that's what parents do.


Here, at nxtU, we certainly work with upper- and upper-middle class families. We also dedicate a significant percentage of our practice to providing exactly the same services - at no cost - to first-generation and veteran students. We are not naïve to think that we are even putting a dent in the rampant inequities of the system - but we are trying.  My partners and I are actively seeking corporate sponsors for our One-for-One business model (like Warby Parker and TOMS) that will allow wealthier clients to fully fund commensurate coaching and mentoring for young adults without the resources to meet today's admissions algorithms or, more important, to maximize their potential. 


We cannot fix the inequities of the system. We can, however, change lives. 


It's what we do. 

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