Children of single moms should apply to America’s most prestigious schools

Getty Images

The common refrain that selective colleges aren’t worth their price tag and that state schools are a better value is sending the wrong message to single mom families. This discourse discourages all students except the wealthiest from considering prestigious schools with high price tags, and it contributes to an ever widening gap between the wealthy and the poor.

Acceptance by one of the 20-50 most selective schools will provide life-altering opportunities. The earning power of children from low-income families definitively improves if they attend the most selective colleges, as compared to less selective ones. This is especially true for low-income single moms, whose academically successful kids are disproportionately more likely to receive full rides to the best schools. Consider the educational routes of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both sons of single moms. For President Clinton, it was Yale and Oxford, and for President Obama, Columbia University and Harvard Law.

{mosads} Aiming for prestige makes economic as well as long-term professional sense. If we as a nation don’t encourage economically-challenged and diverse students to apply to these schools, these institutions will resemble what they used to be: old boy’s clubs where only the most privileged families, and a few hardworking outliers, were allowed to join.

Lack of encouragement

Bright students who are poor need to hear that they too have a chance at the best education available. Too often, economically challenged high school students aren’t encouraged by counselors and teachers to aim high, take risks, and gamble on applying to selective schools. Even those with top grades predominantly opt for state schools and less prestigious private colleges.  Their lack of awareness is further compounded by the reality that college admissions officers rarely visit or actively recruit from most urban and rural high schools.

The rewards of admission  

While state schools are often heralded as the magic bullet for this demographic — the affordable gateway to success — it’s very difficult for underfunded state schools with smaller endowments to compete with selective schools’ financial aid packages. The top schools tend to have extremely large endowments, and their goal is to meet the financial needs of every student who qualifies for admittance.

Attending an elite school goes a long way toward opening doors that would otherwise be locked. Their networks offer valuable access to people and organizations who can further careers.  Research shows that business majors at top colleges “benefit from better internship opportunities and more robust networks than peers at lower ranked schools.” Connections accrued at college are particularly important for students coming from less-connected families, as are post-graduation internships and job opportunities, simply by virtue of the prestige linked to the school.

Law firms remain exceptionally status conscious, often hiring based on where undergraduates went to school instead of how well they performed there. Similarly, the top medical schools favor undergraduates from Harvard, George Washington, and some premier state schools, such as the University of North Carolina.

In the business world, certain schools have a leg up. Patty Pogemiller of Deloitte, one of world’s top business firms, told the Wall Street Journal, specifically, that “Notre Dame is one of our top schools for new hires.”

Colleges and universities, no matter how selective, are looking for diversity and are willing to pay for it. 70 percent of Harvard undergraduates receive financial aid. Admissions folks like to place their bets on a scrappy, self-sufficient kid of a single mom versus the coddled student who crumbles at their first B.

Single mom kids have the ability to succeed without compromise

These high school juniors and seniors have the right to know that though elite schools are hard to get into, if they’re accepted, money probably won’t be an issue. Nor will their ability to succeed: “High achieving, lower income students who start at selective institutions have similar grades and graduation rates as higher income peers,” according to a report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which provides scholarships and grants to exceptional low-income students.

Acceptance to college is capricious, but if admitted to a reach school, single mom sons and daughters belong there just as much, if not more, as the student who needs no financial aid and has an alumni parent.

Dr. Marika Lindholm is the founder of ESME (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere) a website and social platform, that aims to redefine single motherhood by providing resources, inspiration, and a point of connection for the underserved community of Solo Moms. Moving beyond stereotypes, ESME offers Solo Moms inspiration, resources, allies, opportunities for creative expression, and some laughs along the way, honoring and celebrating the millions of Solo Moms who raise children in every town and city across our nation.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Bill Clinton Education Private Schools public schools Students
See all Hill.TV See all Video