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Top Schools Seek Underprivileged Overachievers

Many elite schools meet a student's full scope of college financial needs.

Elizabeth Hoyt

January 09, 2013

Top Schools Seek Underprivileged Overachievers
Every year, top schools experience the same conundrum: they can’t seem to reach higher achieving, lower income students. Schools strive to find such students in hopes to increase the diversity on campus and combat the belief that elite colleges only accommodate students from wealthier, more privileged backgrounds. Many schools struggle with need-based aid, where administrators feel pressure from overwhelming financial realities and lower college endowments. This is not the case at some of the nation’s wealthiest and most elite colleges, which also happen to be among the most generous in terms of financial aid.

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Only a small number of wealthy colleges meet full-need for students—schools like Stanford and Harvard—and offer scholarships for students from lower-income backgrounds that are all-inclusive. Such need-blind admissions processes often mean free tuition, room and board for qualifying students. If students did choose to attend such universities, chances are it would likely be cheaper for them than attending a local community college or in-state university.
Such programs, however, don’t seem to be working. For example, Harvard began offering free tuition to students whose families earned under $40k per year, but only saw an increase by about 15 students who utilized the newly adopted program.

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These students exist, so why aren't they ending up in the highest ranking schools? It comes down to where a student applies. Many of the students who fit into this category come from schools where their peers aren't considering similar schools and lack mentors. As a result, lower income students often fail to even apply to a school that would be willing to offer a first-rate education for free. In addition, such students are often a needle in a haystack. Students who live in larger, more metropolitan areas are much more likely to consider different school options because of strong guidance counseling and college recruitment programs. Nearly 70 percent are recruited from 15 metro areas due to the available resources.

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Highly-talented students that do come from lower-income backgrounds that reside in one of the 15 major metropolitan areas, which include New York City and Washington D.C., have close to 100 percent odds of being able to attend an elite, Ivy League college. But, when a student lives in a rural area rather than a major one, it makes it nearly impossible for college recruiters to find and target them. College recruiters and administrators admit that not all of these students must go to highly selective, elite schools to succeed, but that they should know the option is available.

Were you aware of the incentive programs at elite colleges?

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