“It does give me an appreciation for the extent to which the college acquisition process and the admissions process is really stacked against students who don’t have the resources to present as powerfully as students who are better resourced. So I think, for instance, about the reliance on standardized test scores and students who have a lot of money to pay for expensive tutors to prepare for that obviously are going to get better scores than those who don’t. And those are disproportionately minorities who are not getting that degree of access.”
Davin Sweeney has over 10 years of experience in the college preparation and administration world. As an admissions counselor at the University of Rochester, he encountered students from a broad range of backgrounds and noted how the college purposefully sought to engage and support them. The college “spent a lot of time working to make sure that we were developing our own pipeline of students to resolve the issue of access as best we could…through community-based partnerships, targeted scholarships, different kinds of STEM programs, etc.” Now an independent college counselor in New York City, Sweeney maintains his passion for opportunity and access, but works in a very different sector: “The population that I work with is very different from the population that we’re studying and that we’re working to impact through [the STEM PUSH Network]. Because I’m an independent counselor, I tend to work with families who have extra money to support…the college process.” Families like his clients can afford to pay for expensive tutors, AP courses, and standardized test attempts–but minority or disadvantaged families, the ones Sweeney cares most about, can’t.
Sweeney emphasizes that under-resourced minority students not only need guidance with regards to academic opportunities themselves, but they also need good support systems to help them along the way, on a personal level. “Students who might be the first in their families to go to college don’t necessarily have that narrative in their family. They don’t have as clear of an image as some other students of what a college experience can be. [They might think], ‘what’s the point? What can I do there? What can it give me? What can I do for me and for my future?’ When pre-college programs are made available through schools, students can access both the academic and personal development they need to be competitive college entrants.
However, Sweeney warned that participation in a pre-college program should not automatically warrant college acceptance. “[Some students] are paying to play. And I don’t know that you would find many college admissions officers that would necessarily be impressed by that, that you’re buying access to something that is certainly beneficial and valuable. But it’s not necessarily impressive if you just had the money to do it. But students that are coming from [disadvantaged circumstances] where they don’t have a lot of opportunities that have found these opportunities to supplement their education, to showcase their intellectual curiosity and their ability to find these opportunities themselves to execute them successfully…goes a long way to improving their their chances of admission, particularly at at selective institutions.” He recommended educating admissions officers and giving them tools to make decisions that evaluate a student’s need alongside their accomplishments, and to “place exactly the right amount of pressure on the scale in favor of more equitable decisions for the students that are in their applicant pool.”