The Smell of Privilege in Admissions

Admissions officers tend to root for people they like. It’s human nature.

It’s a distinct smell. It’s a smell that leads one side of the mouths of admissions officers to rise, a visible sign of disdain. It’s a smell that inspires admissions officers to root against applicants — often with great fervor. It’s the smell of privilege and the applications of so many students to elite schools, well, reek of it. Maybe the student attended a fancy summer enrichment program in a faraway land or at an elite university like Stanford University or the University of Pennsylvania. Maybe the student interns for a venture capital firm, which happens to be similar to her father’s line of work that’s listed on page two of The Common Application. Maybe the student plays squash, water polo, and/or tennis, though he’s not good enough to be recruited for any one of these sports. Maybe the student writes about a fancy car mom or dad gave her in an admissions essay. No matter how a student chooses to showcase their privilege, make no mistake, admissions officers will take it out on them — big time.

There Are Ironies in Elite College Admissions

Now don’t get us wrong. There are distinct ironies in admissions. The existence of legacy admission, or colleges offering preferential treatment to the progeny of a school’s alumni base. The fact that the children and grandchildren of major donors enjoy an advantage in elite college admissions. The great relationships fancy boarding schools like Phillips Exeter Academy, Andover Academy, and Choate Rosemary Hall have with Ivy League and other highly selective universities. The notion that great SAT and ACT scores are often the result of lots of expensive tutoring. And so on. But just because these ironies exist doesn’t mean a student — no matter the privileges they may enjoy — should flaunt those privileges in their activities and their storytelling in their college admissions essays. After all, flaunting this privilege will only inspire admissions officers to root against — not for — them.

Flaunting Privilege Will Hurt Applicants to Elite Universities

And while it may seem obvious that students should not flaunt privilege in their applications, too many students (and their parents) who are aware they shouldn’t do so do so anyway. We suppose they don’t even recognize the extent of some of their privilege. Not everyone, as an example, gets to drive their own car to school. Some students bike, others walk, or even take the school bus. So even that subtle reference in an essay about driving to school, well, it can significantly undermine one’s candidacy — and too many students and parents don’t even realize it. But we want you to understand why, in simple and unequivocal terms. We want you to understand why the smell of privilege can so significantly hurt a student’s case for admission to elite universities. To understand it, look no further than the reader. Look no further than the person who will be evaluating your case for admission. Below is an entry-level jobs posting in the Duke University admissions office. Notice anything?

Duke University recently posted job openings in the admissions office. Note the salary.

Know Thy Admissions Officer

The compensation for this job is between $40,000 to the low $50,000s. And while more seasoned admissions officers do make more, this starting salary — or not even starting salary — is not unique to Duke. It’s typical at the vast majority of highly selective universities. And, yes, the person who takes this job, or someone like him or her, will in all likelihood be evaluating your case for admission. When the cost of that service trip to Chile or that fancy summer enrichment program is about a quarter of the annual salary of the very person who will be reading your file and they too wish they could travel in Chile, well, you’ve done yourself quite the disservice. Know your reader. Avoid the smell of privilege. Ivy Coach’s students, like the students of all college counselors, are privileged. Not everyone in the world gets to work with a private college counselor to improve their case for admission to elite universities. But they never — ever — showcase that privilege in their activities, their storytelling, or any other component of their college applications.

Have a question about the smell of privilege in admissions? Let us know your question by posting it below.

 
 

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1 Comment

  • Allison says:

    Thank you for this very good piece! However, there are way too many questions that need to be answered on the Common App that make it almost impossible to avoid sounding privileged! The questions about how educated your parents are, etc., How do you avoid answering without lying?

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