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Family background indicative of college success, study suggests

With an increasing number of students seeking a college education, officials at competitive institutions, such as Boston University, must reach out to financially disadvantaged students at a younger age in order to attract them sooner, according to a recent study.

Despite attempts from universities to increase financial aid, students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds still have fewer opportunities to attend high status universities, said Steve Kappler, assistant vice president for College and Career Readiness at American College Testing.

“We tend to see that the conversations [about opportunities] don’t take place,” Kappler said. “Whether they’re in school or at home or with peers, they don’t take place as often, so they see opportunities as being limited instead of seeing them as a whole plethora of options based on their ability to look at a range of opportunities.”

The Sutton Trust, which funds and evaluates programs that help thousands of youth from low- and middle-income homes, presented the study at a summit on Wednesday.

Children of working-class parents are three times less likely to gain admittance to highly selective institutions, despite similarities in academic achievement to children of professional parents, according to the study.

Although there is a wide economic gap between students of different backgrounds, Kappler said the problem of poor college readiness affects all social backgrounds.

“I don’t think that’s really restricted to the financial means within a household,” Kappler said. “We have plenty of students that have financial wherewithal to go anywhere and academic support to go anywhere and just don’t.”

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to develop the necessary skills required to gain admission to a high-status university, according to the study. Additionally, young people in the United States frequently drop out of their institutions of higher education, and almost half of those who enter such institutions do not complete their degree.

Kappler said in order to help students establish where their interests lie and which universities can best accommodate their needs, colleges should reach out to them before they even begin applying to schools.

“Hit them as freshmen and sophomores when they’ve been identified to present you [BU] as a viable option for them,” Kappler said. “They [universities] also need to work with guidance counselors across the country for them to understand their options and who’s a good fit for a school like BU.”

Several students said applicants should be judged based on their economic statuses.

Vlad Barash, a School of Management junior, said the practice of admitting students based upon financial background is unfair.

“It seems to me that they [universities] are admitting people from richer families more than from poorer families so that they can get more tuition and not have to give as much scholarship [money],” Barash said. “The first thing I think of is, ‘that it isn’t fair.’”

Amy Brooks, a College of Fine Arts first-year graduate student, said universities should judge applicants through an interview process rather than just examining their backgrounds.

“Everyone should get a fair chance,” Brooks said. “Schools could look at how good their oral communication is, their determination and motivation … They should look at that and make a judgment.”

Chris Kuiken, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said while coming from a lower income background puts applicants at a disadvantage, hard work can often earn admission to a top-tier university.

“It is very hard if you’re in a very bad community and you’re financially not as well off,” Kuiken said. “There are a couple cases where people in those situations who strive and work really hard to get the money make it here [BU] and then they attend.”

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