Staff editorial: College process is a meritocracy with no merit

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

The Beacon Staff

When the story broke that celebrities were bribing their kids’ way into elite universities, it seemed like many in our parents’ generation were shocked. We weren’t. As high-school students in 2019, the role money plays in the college admissions process is nothing new.

We have seen the SAT and ACT prep courses that take hundreds or even thousands of dollars from families hoping to give their kids an edge. We have seen the college counselors who charge $250 per hour to give help and advice that students can’t find elsewhere. We have seen kids go to the same schools that their parents and grandparents attended and gave money to for decades. So to us, this scandal wasn’t a surprise.

Instead, the college admissions scandal highlighted the problematic role that money plays in the college process. The latest revelations are the tip of the iceberg, but beneath the surface is a sea of inequality of opportunity.

At Wilson, we are lucky enough to be spared some of the costs of preparing for college. We have an in-house college and career counselor as well as an in-school SAT, we don’t have to pay for AP tests and our DC-CAP advisers are incredible and relentless. But even the best efforts of our college and career staff will can’t exactly be equated to the invaluable personalized advice private standardized test tutors and college advisors give. They simply do not have the time, resources, or energy to guide 400 students individually through the college process.

For students at other schools, the problem is even worse. We can take any AP tests without batting an eye. And high scores give us the opportunity to boost our applications and bypass intro-level classes in college. However, with AP exams costing about $90, the same opportunity could cost hundreds of dollars for students at schools where exam fees are not covered.

Each of these tests is supposed to determine the academic merit of a potential student. But when the tests cost money, they are no longer merit-based—they are income-based. By that logic, the college application process as a whole is inherently income-based.

So when considering the fact that celebrities pay bribes to get their kids into top schools, it’s important to remember that their actions are just one example of the injustices that plague that college admissions process. The rich have paid and continue to pay for their kids’ admittance to the country’s most prestigious universities, they’ve just usually done so legally.