The Barriers of Getting Into College as a Low-Income Student

by Steven Li

For many students, the dream is to enter college. However, for under-resourced families, this is comparatively harder to achieve due to the college admission system in the United States. From high-school transcripts to SAT testing, academic performance is highly impacted by the financial burdens of a student’s upbringing.


One notable example is standardized testing. In a 2015 study by Inside Higher Ed, it was found that “the lowest average scores were among students from families who make less than $20,000 in family income, while the highest averages were among students from families who make more than $200,000 [a year]” (Hess). This higher performance comes from the resources typically unlocked with more affluent families, such as students attending higher-funded high-schools. These schools carry testing-specific prep courses that assist in strengthening the students' scores. In addition, the SAT test is not free. Low-income students are able to apply for fee waivers, only allowing two free SAT tests while high-income students are able to afford beyond two exams if required. Dayanna Salas, a high-school senior in Chicago, experienced this stating, “low income students can't afford to receive the prep needed to get into schools that provide the aid necessary to make them able to attend.”


As Salas mentioned, another barrier is paying for college. With high sticker-prices of various institutions across the U.S., many students, especially low-income students, are finding themselves with a flood of student debt. Low-income support such as the Pell Grant has decreased from 2011 to 2016 as, “the total grants awarded dipped from 9.3 million to 7.6 million.” Additionally, the max[imum] Pell Grant award is $5,815, falling short of many college tuitions. This leads to complications with 77.6% of low-income students graduating on time compared to the 90 percent of higher-income students in 2014 (College For America). Some institutions take into account a student's financial need in the admission process, which could lead to a disadvantage for some low-income students. One Chicago high-school senior states that one of their top schools took into account how much aid they needed, which they think contributed to them being wait-listed instead of accepted.


The circumstances of low-income families vary. However, if the American education system offered testing and funding opportunities to assist low-income students, this could help reduce educational disparities caused by financial gaps.


©2020 by On the Money Magazine Online

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