The Common App recently decided to get rid of a question which asked students applying to college if they had been subject to disciplinary action in high school. Although the decision to get rid of the discriminatory question is a victory for inclusion and access in higher education, it raises an important follow-up question– what other barriers to entry exist for BIPOC in the “standard” college application process?
Written by Ariam Tesfaye
The Common App recently decided to get rid of a question which asked students applying to college if they had been subject to disciplinary action in high school. The question itself was put in place in 2006 after a number of colleges that accept the Common App asked for its inclusion. For over a decade, this question has been one of the first things students are asked when applying for college. For many BIPOC students applying to college, this question created an unnecessary barrier to entry. Although the decision to get rid of the discriminatory question is a victory for inclusion and access in higher education, it raises an important follow-up question– what other barriers to entry exist for BIPOC in the “standard” college application process?
There are many pieces of the process when students apply to college: standardized testing, application fees, test preparation classes and books, and so on. While some students spend years preparing for these events, getting advice from parents, and taking practice exams, these seemingly “standard” and “necessary” processes often act as roadblocks to entering college for many Black and Brown students.
Take standardized tests, for example. Not only are these exams required for high school students looking to apply to college, but the results determine which schools students can choose from when applying. Unfortunately, standardized tests have long been cited as being unfairly biased against Black and Latinx students as they are often built with various discriminatory biases built-in. Test designers tend to create questions on the basis that students taking these tests hold background knowledge that is more common among middle-class, White students. Stereotype threat is also a factor that puts BIPOC students at a disadvantage by creating an atmosphere of fear and performance anxiety around test-taking. And the results are clear: Black and Latinx students on average score two times lower on these exams than their White and Asian peers.
Test preparation is another area where the odds are largely in favor of White, middle-class students. On average, the SAT score is 1230 for students with household incomes more than $200,000; 1120 for those with household incomes between $80,000 and $100,000; and 1060 for students whose household incomes ranged between $40,000 and $60,000. The connection between socioeconomic status and test scores is no surprise, however, as one-on-one personal tutoring sessions offered by Princeton Review run as high as $2,600. High premiums for preparedness create an unfair cycle when Black and Latinx children and adolescents are living in poverty at a rate more than double that of non-Latino, White, and Asian children and adolescents.
The early admissions process acts as another barrier to access for BIPOC students. The process itself is meant to give students a greater chance to be selected for admission before the general admissions cycle begins. Students who apply for early acceptance are making a commitment before any other considerations, such as financial aid offers, can be officially made. At certain institutions, the acceptance rate for students who apply early is anywhere from 50 to 70 percent higher than regular admission rates. Black and Brown students are three times less likely than their peers to apply for early action because of the restrictions placed on their ability to apply elsewhere in search of the best financial aid options. Early admission puts these students in a compromising position of choosing between having a higher chance of being admitted or finding the most affordable school.
Common App’s decision to remove the discipline question is a step in the right direction as far as creating equity in the college admissions process; however, change cannot stop there. Considerations for Black and Brown students looking to apply to college must extend to widely accessible test prep offerings, truly universal standardized testing, and admissions processes which level the playing field for all students who wish to access higher education.
Ensuring that BIPOC students feel comfortable in the arena of higher education is not a choice. If education can truly create opportunities, then we must do the work to recognize our BIPOC students as an essential and fully capable piece of the equation.
About the author: Ariam Tesfaye is Content Coordinator and Executive Assistant to the Chief Product Officer at Packback. Ariam is passionate about amplifying the voices of Black people and ensuring that pathways to opportunity are accessible for all who seek them. Before coming to Packback, Ariam graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a BA in African-American studies and communication.