Should Rich Kids Get Most of the Scholarships?

Call it the Cycle of Money. Wealthier families push their children to study, study, study, expecting top grades across the board. These students snag most of the merit-based scholarships, which now includes nearly 30 percent of state aid. Though finances were never really a barrier to education for them, the money sways some of these high performers to enroll at a state school instead of somewhere else, the schools bump up their average GPA, get more money to give to still more rich students, and the poor are, more and more, left out of the loop.

Why? Well, advanced programs, academic extra-curriculars, high-end computers and tutors when they need them might help. But at the very least, it makes a heck of a big difference to your scholarship chances if you don’t have to work 25 hours a week. That’s the story Catherine Rampell has laid out in her provocatively-titled NYT column, “Freebies for the Rich”, and it’s a frightening one.

The problem is we’re looking at just one more aspect of a yawning inequity splitting the nation in two. Need-based aid targets capable students may not get a post-secondary education otherwise, while merit-based aid is a recruitment campaign: it overwhelming goes to students who will be attending college no matter what, and merely encourages them to attend one college over another.

It sounds good in theory. The most capable, talented individuals are sought out and given what they need to meet their potential, regardless of their background. Even born with nothing, any of us can “make it”, if we work hard. But the reality is that SAT scores correlate highly with household income, and pretty much no one in the ghetto is getting a full-ride based on their grades alone. So what’s being accomplished by the growing proportion of state aid earmarked to merit-based scholarships?

State schools love merit-based aid because they can use it to snag kids that might have gone to private schools, raising the school’s profile and, perhaps, resulting in more alumni donations later on. Wealthy parents love it since it’s money in the bank.

But this money isn’t really doing any good for the state (or country) in the long run, since it’s not leading to a net increase in the number of educated people. It isn’t “aiding” the poorer families whose performance and success would gain the most from some financial support. Surprisingly, it’s not even good for the students who receive this money, as their performance drops when they “slum it” at the less elite school offering them financial backing.

Perhaps most important, it’s not exactly about merit, is it? On the whole, it’s more like “life circumstance-based aid”. I was a little jarred when I read that opening anecdote, and the poorer student was quoted as saying he thought his friend, who had a full ride through both college and medical school, was no smarter than him, as I remember thinking the same thing several times throughout my own secondary and post-secondary career.

As a high school student, I also worked 25-30 hours per week, and while I maintained strong grades, I couldn’t compete for the big scholarships. Likewise, in my university faculty (physics), I watched some of my classmates go on ski vacations once or twice each school year, while I held down a full-time job and upped my hours during every holiday break. Looking back on it now, there were certain career paths I didn’t even remotely consider as options because the schooling was too expensive, but for my carefree classmates, every door was open. Were they more “merit-worthy” than I was?

An early advantage or set-back can have a huge effect on a person’s educational path, and therefore their entire life. Unfortunately, it seems the trend now is moving more and more toward conferring advantages to those who already have several.

Related stories:

Yes, the Economy is Growing, But Mostly Just for the Wealthy

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Mapmy Study
Mapmy Study4 years ago

Thank you for the interesting article.A student needs to go through certain stages to get Foreign Education. First make up your mind for your dream destination, look for a good Institute and location.

Angelus Silesius
Angelus Silesius4 years ago

No! I was orphaned and poor and schools like harvard rejected me after the interview because I was poor. As a result I.had to work multiple jobs for 20 years to get a degree from northeastern working 70 to 105 hrs per week.

Dani C.
Dani C4 years ago

Scholarships shouldnt be for sale...but Im sure the scratch my back,Ill scratch yours (scholarship to kid in exchange for large donation from family...or they may consider large donor families first)
Scholarships should always be earned!! nothing else matters

Ellen Gaston
Ellen Gaston4 years ago

If a student is smart and works hard, that they live in a ghetto is of no conseqence. You can't mandate people's lot in life. And to natasha s., calling a person greedy because they are wealthy is pathetic. Why would a person even go to college if not to make good money? You are a loon.

Tim C.
Tim C4 years ago


Lynn C.
Past Member 4 years ago

I thought they were based on scholarship and NEED.

Lynda Duke
Lynda Duke4 years ago

There should be a significant research done on the "Rich Kids" finances, if they or their family can afford to pay for their education (as most rich folks can pay for it) then they don't deserve scholarships. The scholarships are for those that can't afford to pay for their education, but earned one because of their grades, and all efforts put forth to making the grade. NO SCHOLARSHIPS for the wealthy. Just like, the wealthy kids should go into the military right along with the poorest. The privileged getting more privileges is so UNFAIR to those that work hard but can't make enough money to pay their way through.

When Bush sent all our poorer children into war, you didn't see his daughters there.

shernita h.
shernita Horen4 years ago

The problem is the "rich kids" know how to work the system. They know how to get their children into gate magnet schools and gate programs. They know the questions on the IQ tests and prepare their children for them. We have people coming from all over the world to compete for our scholarships for a free education. Competition is fierce in these modern times. It seems the rich always know how to work the system, saving on education while they put their money in foreign banks! Families use us for education and usually have the yearning to go back to their home country or live in both countries. The wealthy do what they want. Scholarships for foreigners was put in place to help people from underdeveloped distressed countries. Now this is an advantage. I think it is not like it use to be or was meant to be. I guess money begets money and there is no competing with people with all the advantages no matter how hard a child works. If you don't have tutors checking your papers and advanced teaching you are not at the head of the class. If you don't have the SAT classes, that puts a child at risk to receive a lower grade, as an example.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

Awful. It sounds so ugly and corrupt. It's the poor that need these scholarships--not the greedy wealthy. Such is our stinky society.