Elite Colleges Fail to Recruit Poorer Students

Last updated on November 15, 2017

If you are from a low-income family, chances are you won’t apply to the country’s top colleges even if you have excellent grades and top test scores.

A new study tracked the college entrance of all students who took the SAT and found that high-achieving poorer students are receiving little or no information about college admission.

Rich and Poor

As the US grapples with growing economic inequality and lower levels of economic mobility, the college choices for poorer students tend to be less selective.

According to this report, only 34% of poor high-achieving high school seniors wind up going to the country’s most selective colleges. By contrast, 78% of wealthier high-achieving students attend elite colleges.

What does this tell us?

Basically, elite colleges are doing a lousy job recruiting poorer students.

Rather than even applying to elite colleges, many high-achieving poorer students are opting for community colleges or cheaper local public universities. This allows them to save cash by living at home.

Lack of Information

Even though there is a lot of financial aid available at many top-tier colleges, many high-achieving poor students don’t know anything about it. Moreover, many of these students have never even met someone who attended a top college

The fall out of this can have major consequences. The colleges and universities – mainly state schools – that high-achieving low-income students attend often fail to have adequate resources. Moreover, they often have lower and longer graduation rates.


Geography seems to play a role as well. According to the study, low-income students who live in the top 15 largest metropolises often do apply to selective schools. But students from smaller towns and rural areas tend not to.

Right now, colleges don’t give much of an advantage to low-income students in terms of admissions. Race often plays a much bigger role and, as a result, students of color from wealthier backgrounds are often recruited to elite universities.

This raises an interesting question about how we define diversity. Should it solely be defined by race and ethnicity? Or is class difference a form of diversity as well?