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Written by Jessica Sasko, Director of College Supports

Dear colleagues,

In light of the news that is coming through about fraud and bribery in college admissions, I was reminded that the folks who committed the crimes actually didn’t need to. They could have participated in the flawed system as it is and had every advantage.

It is, in fact, legal to obtain seats at a college through legacy admissions, to pay for expensive SAT prep, pay for private college advising, take advantage of applying early decision, and for parents to take children on college visits to show “demonstrated interest.

And I know that many of us would–or do–take these steps for our own children if we have the means.

I meet monthly with our Network Schools’ college counselors, and at our last meeting, they reminded me of some of the inequities between students in our network and students in private high schools. The latter often already have their college applications ready to go in September, thanks to access to costly interventions, and supported by a family with first-hand knowledge of how to navigate the college application process. In these students’ schools, the counselor’s role is intentionally limited to make sure they have the time to call colleges personally to advocate for each of their students.

By contrast, in September our Network School counselors are making and finalizing college lists with students, starting college applications with students, scheduling college trips (if the school has funds that year), helping each student register for the SAT, completing transcript reviews to ensure students are on track to graduate. . . and counseling.

Taking on the “pre-work” that more privileged students can complete over the summer means that our students are submitting their applications later than their more advantaged counterparts, a considerable disadvantage in a system that operates on a first come, first served basis.

And for our students who need to prove that they are poor, displaced or homeless, in legal guardianship, etc., in order to obtain a seat in a support program at a college where there are even fewer slots than in regular admissions, what happens? Even with their counselors’ help, students are vying for those limited seats.

And by the time students are done retelling their story, reliving what’s already been a difficult experience, and securing the documents to prove it, they are often left feeling like maybe they don’t belong at college.

Speaking of privilege, I haven’t even gotten to what it means for students of color to transition to primarily white institutions or for students who are undocumented or for their families who are undocumented to not be able to visit their children upstate due to travel restrictions.

I encourage you to talk to counselors about navigating this experience. They have endless stories. . . But maybe wait a bit: they are busy calling colleges right now, trying to secure access to support programs, programs that are already filling up.

I write this as a reminder of all the legal ways students and some of us have advantage and privilege outside of breaking the law. . . I include myself in this pool. That is what is important, and what I hope is emphasized with this “breaking” news of bribery and fraud.

Thank you for everything you do for our students. Every program and support means the world, and you know that already. Hold onto it in light of everything.


Jessica Sasko

Learn more about how we support college access.

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