College Admissions: The Rich Kid Advantage

College Admissions: The Rich Kid Advantage

A new ambitious survey of hundreds of senior college admission officials from across the country has revealed just what kind of high school students are in big demand:  R-I-C-H kids.
It’s no surprise that admission officers at both public and private colleges and universities are salivating over wealthy teenagers. Their parents have the money and the schools believe they need more of it.
Here is the survey’s breakdown of the percentage of schools – by category – that are paying more attention to families abilities to pay the full price:

  • Public doctoral              13.0%
  • Public master’s              12.2%
  • Public college                 16.6%
  • Private doctoral            20.5%
  • Private master’s            22.5%
  • Private college               31.0%

Easier Admission Standards

According to Inside Higher Ed, which conducted the survey, “The interest in full-pay students is so strong that 10 percent of four-year colleges report that the full-pay students they are admitting have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants.”
Here’s what I wrote on my CBS MoneyWatch college blog about the phenomenon:
Schools aren’t just waiting for wealthy students to discover them. More than a third of private and public, four-year schools say they have focused more attention on recruiting full-pay students.
The drive to attract rich students was most pronounced among public doctoral universities. Fifty one percent of the state schools said their top focus was full-pay students. State schools are particularly looking for wealthy nonresidents, who can pay, in some cases, $40,000 or more a year to help make up revenue shortfalls from dwindling state government support.

Reed College Example

There is nothing new with affluent students enjoying an advantage in the college admission process. The New York Times wrote a story more than two years about the admission process at Reed College, which caused a great stir. The school, faced with finite financial aid funds, had to cut loose 100 needy students from its accepted student list before the acceptance letters were sent out.
What most people didn’t understand that this isn’t a Reed phenomenon. This is routine operating procedure at schools across the country. (Other colleges and universities don’t allow newspaper reporters into their deliberations!) Most private colleges are tuition driven, which means they need to attract enough full-pay wealthy students to help defray the financial aid costs of the less fortunate students.

Bottom Line:

If you’re rich, congratulations. You might enjoy an easier time getting into colleges. Everybody else, however, will need to make sure that the schools that they apply to are very good matches. You want to aim for schools that really want you. If you need a lot of money, applying to reach schools could very well backfire.
It’s not fair that rich students, who need the least help getting into college, are the ones who enjoy an advantage. Gripping about it, however, won’t get you anywhere.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report.

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  1. This is an actual Facebook post. Notice not one word is said about the tuition determining where this student will go. How nice to not have to worry about COST as a factor!
    2 hours ago near Cleveland, OH ·
    I feel good today.
    in retrospect, there’s only one thing anyone ever needed to tell me about the whole college application process: you generally get accepted into the kinds of places you should go.
    of course, all I got was “well, would you prefer an urban or rural setting? That’s important to take into account. What’s the social scene like? Are you looking for ‘diversity’ and other brochure buzzwords?” and extraneous crap like that, unrelated to 1) what I can learn and 2) how well I can learn it, which are the only important things to me.
    the application process was pretty much a crapshoot for me — at the end of the day, it was a google search for “top physics schools,” and me throwing darts, and I felt terrible THE ENTIRE TIME because, from there, it seemed like a test, the result of which would be my “rank:” how good of a school I would end up getting into. I felt terrible until the day I went to Case, acclimated within 24 hours, and felt perfectly happy with where I was and what I have so far accomplished.
    Acceptances/rejections are nothing more than final pieces of information telling you whether it’s a good or bad idea to go to the place you’re thinking about. Rejection means “you’re a bad fit,” whether because your grades indicate you wouldn’t survive there with your work ethic, that you just wouldn’t match the typical student they tend to have there, etc. Acceptance means that everyone there is AT LEAST as insane and interesting a person as you are, and that you’ll probably find yourself in good company (though common-sense rules for making the final decision still apply).
    So that’s what I’ve gained from having come out the other side of the “college application,” a convoluted, far-too-long, hellhole of a process.

  2. California state schools are going to need to look for out of state students to pay full price that is what will fund California’s new law giving illegal immigrants who have attended California high schools instate tuition. This law in essence will make the high schools the gatekeepers of who gets in state tuition, ridiculous.
    On a different subject, aren’t most of the well endowed private schools admissions a need-blind process? As much as it is disconcerting that schools may actually choose students who can pay the fact of the matter is those private schools are running a business. Businesses cater to those who can pay. This is the reality my family lives in as members of the middle class.

    1. Hi Renee,
      I wanted to let you know that the seminar is geared toward parents, but only because I doubt that most teens are going to want to sit through a day-long workshop. There is a lot of information that teenagers need to know — particularly about selecting schools. The morning session, which focuses on the finances of college, is going to be of most importance to parents.
      The price of the workshop, by the way, includes lunch and the workbook.
      Hope you can come.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy
      Hope you can come.