Top Student, Top School?: How Social Class Shapes Where Valedictorians Go to College

Alexandria Walton Radford, Author
Alexandria Walton Radford. Univ. of Chicago, $27.50 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-226-04100-1
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In the college admissions process, America’s brightest high school seniors compete on anything but a level playing field. In examining how valedictorians and their parents negotiate the six stages of the process—predisposition, preparation, exploration, application, admissions, and matriculation—higher education expert Radford (No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admissions) provides a wealth of data on the key role of “socioeconomic status” (SES), a combination of income and education, as reported by the students themselves. Radford shows that high-SES valedictorians are far more likely than mid- and low-SES valedictorians to be members of social circles in which someone has attended a selective private institution, such as an Ivy League university. In part because of this, 80% of high-SES valedictorians apply to such institutions, versus only 50% of low-SES students—although the latter may be eligible for significant financial aid at these institutions. Such aid is crucial because a significant percentage of low- and mid-SES parents, who exert a great deal of influence over the decision, rule out elite private institutions because of cost. Radford provides universities with five concrete suggestions for change, beginning with giving parents and students better information on financial aid packages earlier in the process. This informative, though sometimes dry, case study on issues of class and higher education will interest admissions professionals. (June)
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