Playing the College Access Game

If you’ve ever played Monopoly, you know that Baltic Avenue and Park Place are worlds apart. If college admissions were a board game, the first rule would be that everyone starts from a different place on the board. There is no “Go”.

The college applications process, which often creates a sense of overwhelm for even the most privileged students as they transition into their senior year of high school, requires a multi-month process more akin to a long-term project than a one-time event. Whereas students from lower socioeconomic status homes sometimes wait until as late as November, December, or January of 12th grade to begin looking at what they need to do to apply, their wealthier peers will have begun years earlier in many cases, working with paid consultants and/or family friends to build carefully researched lists of schools they perceive as being the right fit.

These advantaged students often complete multiple drafts of their admissions essays for application—a 15–30-hour process in many cases, as opposed to just one. They apply to an average of 8-12 schools, preparing in the summer before senior year even begins so they can make Early Action and Early Decision deadlines.

This is not to say that students from underserved populations intentionally procrastinate. They simply lack a road map and calendar explaining optimal timing for the requirements they need to check off a very long list: FAFSA completion they do not always understand, demonstrated interest no one has told them to complete, live tours they cannot afford to take, college fairs they have not heard about, and essays no one is coaching them how to write. I’ve created a YouTube channel filled with free information, so anyone with a smart phone or computer access can view dozens of free videos explaining things in detail—click and subscribe to College Admissions Simplified for details (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMDWDx6xDcqmgjHpzFGqF1A).

For students whose families lack wealth, the fear of ostracization within existing support systems, or of venturing too far from the tried-and-true paths of their parents and other elders, can constitute a surprising hurdle. Notions of loyalty can surpass a willingness for the student to act in their own best interest. The fear of homesickness can constitute a gravitational pull, especially for those from first-generation backgrounds where the construct of leaving one geographic region to pursue opportunity in another is not part of the cultural norm. Much of my doctoral research focuses on kin networks for this reason.

Since I specialize in increasing college admissions success for students from all backgrounds, some people are surprised to learn I am a first-generation student myself. Dad was in the Navy and mom was a legal secretary. I have learned firsthand that students often need to be willing to pursue academic excellence to successfully break intergenerational bonds of scarcity and limitation. Stasis can seem to be a noble option—in the name of not “getting too big for one’s britches”. While college may not be the correct path for everyone, when fear of reproach or failure eclipses the desire for upward intellectual and economic mobility, it’s deeply unfortunate. Not every student chooses the pathway of higher education, but for those who do my platform and contributions to the field are here to help.

After all, who wants to play a game where the rules aren’t clear and the outcomes aren’t fair?