Who Knew What Money Could Buy
I don’t know about you, but I had a mixed reaction to the recent college application scam uncovered by the Justice Department. On the one hand, I could not seem to understand how it was possible that there were no checks and balances when it came to the taking of standardized tests or validating whether or not an athletic recruit not only played the sport...but was exceptional at it.
Sure, I knew those with family members who were alumni of a specific school got preferential treatment in the admissions process. But I had no idea what extraordinary, unethical, and illegal lengths parents with wealth would go to in order to ensure their children could become members of one of the most exclusive “clubs” in the world—a college graduate from an elite institution.
The parents caught up in this messy situation took it to a new height, giving new meaning to an old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
What this controversy has reinforced is that there are a whole host of reasons why the deck is stacked against students who lack the know-how and resources to secure a coveted spot at a good school. Not unlike the networking that happens on the golf course or in private clubs, having the right connections makes a difference when looking to stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Even though I was raised in a middle-class household, I was one of the lucky ones because my parents place a high value on education. I also happened to live in an area with a nationally-recognized school system. As a result, I was surrounded by classmates whose parents were doctors, lawyers, and business executives. They taught me valuable lessons like the importance of finding an internship while in high school, or how taking the SAT prep course could help boost my score.
In some ways, getting into college was like training to be a star athlete. Those able to surround themselves with others who not only got into, but graduated from a top school, had a leg up because they learned what it took to qualify and succeed. While money may not buy you happiness, it can buy you access to the coaches, mentors, and tutors that strengthen a student’s ability to compete. However, crossing the finish line still means having an ability to pay the $40-$60,000 a year to attend these elite institutions.
Don’t get me wrong, much of this is old news. If you speak with any guidance counselor, they will tell you that the odds of securing a prized slot at a good school increases when a student graduates at the top of the class, has good ACT and SAT scores, and is a well-rounded student because they were involved in extracurricular activities.
Now imagine if you are a first-generation college student or live in the inner city where under-resourced schools are unable to offer the breadth and quality of education students like me had access to. They often begin the race with a distinct disadvantage and are left feeling like they do not deserve the chance to attend college, even if they have the necessary credentials. Known as “imposter syndrome,” a student who does not feel like they belong can begin to doubt their capabilities, which increases the likelihood of dropping out of college.
Fortunately, there are non-profit organizations working hard to level the playing field and bridge these gaps. One of them is the Posse Foundation, a college access and leadership program providing merit-based full-tuition scholarships to students typically overlooked in the application process for many of the reasons above. Posse was founded in 1989 because of one student who said, “I never would’ve dropped out of college if I’d had my posse with me.”
The model is simple: find highly qualified students and provide them with pre-collegiate training to strengthen their communications, writing, and coping skills so they are better prepared to enter an environment likely much different from the one where they grew up. Working in groups of ten, a posse, the students enter college with a close-knit group that can “back each other up.” I am proud to serve on the DC Advisory Board of Posse.
Many of us take for granted what knowledge we acquire in life just because of where we live and who we know. I do not say this to make you feel guilty but to help shine a light on what happens when you aren’t a member of a club or network. Knowledge is power—but if you do not know how to join a club or where it is, how could you possibly know the secret handshake to get in?▼