Every March, students across the country fail to join elite higher-education institutions despite their hard work and intelligence. It is not because they were rejected; it is because they did not apply.
While many of us followed in the blue and gray Hoya steps of our parents, or embraced the advice of a guidance counselor who recommended life at Georgetown, other students were lucky to even hear the words “Common App” or “FAFSA.” These are students who attend high schools in low-resource areas. High-achieving and hard-working students in these areas do not typically receive information encouraging them to apply to college, and therefore do not typically apply to even a single selective college.
It may seem odd that teenagers would not want to break the poverty cycle their families are facing. However, most first-generation college students aren’t aware of the feasibility of applying to colleges. Many believe that they aren’t smart enough to get in, views fostered by the negative environments in which they often grow up. Furthermore, they believe that if they get in, they won’t be able to afford the $60,000-per-year tuition. I know this because I am a first-generation college student. Yet, studies show that the most competitive institutions are often the cheapest for students receiving financial aid. The top schools typically have the most money to give due to their large endowments.
Consequently, many students who deserve a top-tier education will end up receiving no education at all, simply because the area they grew up in limited their abilities. It is the ones who make it to college who have the power to reach back into their communities.
When I attended a first-generation college student conference for Ivy League schools in February, I discovered a sad truth. The people leading the conference were only in their seats representing their colleges because someone in their lives had taken them aside and told them that they were smarter than they thought. Most students who grow up in households with degreeless parents don’t have the same academic support as other students. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the parents; often, parents don’t know how to support their children and aren’t aware of what their child is capable of accomplishing. Many times, children are even told not to apply to selective colleges because parents fear their children leaving home or being rejected, or because they think they cannot afford college education. The inequity of education exists throughout America and even reaches into well-off areas where first-generation college students can fall through the cracks of a thriving school district.
Although many admissions offices are aware of the inequity, most choose not to reach out to low-income schools because they are not cost-effective. The Georgetown admissions office should actively reach out to high schools in poor neighborhoods that have been capable of sending one student to Georgetown before. At these schools, admissions officers can be sure there are students who can thrive at Georgetown. Georgetown can host information sessions at these schools to give talented low-income students an opportunity to pursue higher education.
While Georgetown successfully recruits many low-income students, its statistics are not so good when compared with those of other top colleges. According to the College Access Index released Sept. 16 by The New York Times, Georgetown is 88th out of 100 for economic diversity. Many claim that Georgetown’s limited endowment prevents the school from providing low-income student scholarships, but Vassar College, a school with a smaller endowment, finished first on the list. Furthermore, data from the Department of Education published every year since 2011 show that there is no correlation between endowment size and number of Pell Grant recipients in U.S colleges. Yet, students across the country are still forgotten in admissions recruiting.
The country as a whole would benefit from more children maximizing their capabilities. If universities across the country were to expand their outreach networks, more students would apply to and attend college than ever before. Obtaining a college degree can help some children break their family’s cycle of poverty, enrich the economy and decrease overall income inequality in America. Students should not have limited access to colleges because they were born into families with insufficient information about education. Every student deserves equal access to education.
Emily Kaye is a sophomore in the College.
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