The wealthy spend tens of thousands each year on private school tuition or property taxes to ensure that their children attend schools that provide a rich, deep college preparatory curriculum. On top of that, many of them spend thousands more on application coaches, test-prep tutors and essay editors. They take their children on elaborate college tours so that their children can “find the right fit” at schools with good names and high graduation rates. Enrollment strategists at these same schools seek applicants from areas where the data they buy confirms that income levels and homeownership are high.
The colleges make efforts to open up access to low-income students while at the same time culling applications in ways that give an advantage to the very wealthy — from the persistence of legacy admissions to the back door reserved for young athletes who excel in sports that flourish in rarefied communities like lacrosse, squash, rowing and fencing. Admissions officers don’t talk much about “development” admissions, students whose applications are favored in hopes their parents will eventually endow a new stadium or dorm. Increasing numbers of prospective freshmen apply for early decision, which can give the applicant a stronger chance of getting in but closes doors for middle-income students, who often need to make their college choice by comparing financial aid packages. No wonder, then, that in a group of 38 selective colleges, including five in the Ivy League, more students came from families in the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent.Among other things, Levy suggests ending legacy admissions and the use of "demonstrated interest" in admissions decisions.