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Low-income students feel left out at Stanford (sfgate.com)
34 points by tokenadult on Mar 24, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

What more can Stanford really do?

He goes there tuition free, his room and board are free, and he gets subsidized work during the summer. It was two weeks between when the semester ended and he started receiving his summer work paychecks - he really couldn't have saved up enough cash to cover two weeks over the course of a year?

On top of all that, he frankly has no right to be at Stanford with a 1300 on his SAT. I had a friend who was rejected from Stanford even though he was class valedictorian (at a ludicrously competitive school), captain of several school teams, and had a 1590 SAT.

He might be a bit bright, but Stanford has already bent over backwards to accommodate him. It's his fault if he isn't willing to do a little work himself. How hard is it to do 10 hours/week of research (paying $15/hr) during the school year? I (and most other people I know) often do so. He'd have several thousand dollars saved up without too much trouble (since Stanford is already paying all his expenses).

he frankly has no right to be at Stanford with a 1300 on his SAT

What establishes a right to be at Stanford?

Why are people upmodding this? The intent of the OP was clear to me: schools are supposed to be a meritocracy, and if his friend was much more qualified and got rejected, why is this guy there?

I TAed my first course at Stanford this quarter, and I was surprised at the quality of work some people turn in. I mentioned this to a couple friends who were undergrads here and they both told me the same thing - Stanford undergrads are often not 99th percentile academically, but have done something impressive. For example, one person told me he had a guy in his freshman dorm who was the #1 (or 2 or 3?) model airplane builder in the US. Admittance to Stanford is not solely based upon scores/grades.

Don't ask me to explain or justify this admissions system - I'm just a student, and a grad student at that, so I've neither effected nor been affected by it.

Who says schools are supposed to be a meritocracy? Schools, especially private ones, can admit whomever they want. Apparently Standford places some value on a diverse student body. Say what you will about this guy in particular, but I don't think anyone wants a school full of valedictorians, which the Standford admissions office could easily make happen. If not, then some overachiever has to get cut.

SAT score alone is not factor of meritocracy, the whole application counts.

If schools are to be a meritocracy, what constitutes sufficient merit to get into Stanford? That was the thrust of my informational question, and I'd be happy to hear responses from anyone who has an opinion on that issue.

Some minimal standard of intellectual ability and interest. That really shocked me when I got to Stanford. I met people who'd gone to fairly decent high schools who were taking what was basically remedial math, and plenty more people who didn't really seem that interested in their classes or majors. I had a reaction similar to the OP when I saw that kid had a 1300. I knew plenty of smart, motivated people with better test scores who they could have still drawn a very diverse class from.

I'm not an American, so I don't know what a 1300 score says about a person. But if I was Stanford, I would be interested in the potential of a person, and not just what they have done. There are lots of "smart" people who are best in their class, but falls behind when they start at a higher level of education.

There may be many reasons why Stanford wanted to give him a chance.

Perhaps they saw something more in him? Perhaps he had a part time job his last year, so that he couldn't spend so much time perfecting his score? He can now focus 100% on Stanford without worrying about money (most of the time), and can probably more than keep up with the "elite".

The article also mention that students who come from families who can afford more, spend money on better high schools, SAT preparation, private teachers etc. to get a high score. In that case, a 1300 might not be so bad, when others need so much extra help.

I'm not an American, so I don't know what a 1300 score says about a person.

Here's a current chart showing how many students in the most recently reported high school class (students who graduated from high school in 2008) scored at different levels as a sum of scores from the critical reading section (200 to 800 standard score points possible, scores rounded to the nearest ten) and from the math section (same scoring) when they took the SAT for their best individual total score for one sitting.


Although you are not an American, you have a good understanding of what else college admission committees look for besides high test scores alone. Your other comments mention several issues that admission committees claim to look at when deciding on applications.

Stanford's most recently reported interquartile ranges for SAT section scores of enrolled first-year students are here:


Please note that a few years ago, when the student mentioned in the newspaper article was admitted, the ranges would have been a bit lower.

Nothing, but some things establish a reason not to be at Stanford.

> What establishes a right to be at Stanford?

Stanford does.

Disclaimer: I am a grad student at Stanford (which definitely makes me low-income :) Undergrads whose families make under 60k go to Stanford for free and under 100k don't pay tuition. Yes there are some students who can afford a lot more than others, but I think Stanford does a pretty good job helping out low-income students. Obviously all schools could do a better job at attracting lower income applicants, but I don't know why they're singling out Stanford.

"I don't know why they're singling out Stanford."

Probably because they are one of the most selective universities in the area. Stanford accepts less than 10% of applicants a year. That is in the same range of any ivy league school. So Stanford is a leader in higher education. When Harvard decided to give need based financial aid to every family who made $180k or less a year, other colleges began discussions on revamping financial aid. Harvard became an example. So if Stanford changes, other schools will take notice.

Other Colleges react to Harvard's Financial Aid Plan:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12...

I don't know why they're singling out Stanford.

Probably just because it's the SF Gate (same reason the only comparison made was to Berkeley).

With articles like these, it's no surprise that Chronicle is going out of business. I was a low-income student in Staford, this article is a curious mix of misleading and plain wrong. I know that time is ripe for class warfare, but come on.

* Financial aid does not cover housing during the summer because Stanford undergrad is not in session during the summer

* Seeing how Stanford covers tuition and all the expenses for low-income students it's actually cheaper to go to Stanford than to stay at home. It's vastly harder for middle-income families to afford full cost of Stanford, than it is for low-income. Welcome to the modern elite college price discrimination/income redistribution.

* having a car for an undergrad is unnecessary and uncommon in Stanford (it's a large and self-sufficient campus), it's a luxury or cost of doing business if you have an off-campus job.

* there are good opportunities for low-income students got make a little extra money. Taking out a bit more in federally subsidized loans (reasonable if you expect your income to increase past college) and subsidized on-campus jobs which pay more than most post-undergraduate starting salaries would be good options.

* so on, so on ...

The lower-than-Berkeley Pell grant percentage is interesting. In addition to irrational belief that Stanford is "school for rich kids" I'd also point to the following rational reasons:

* Stanford is more selective. You get drastically fewer poor kids as you move to the right of the bell curve.

* Stanford practices affirmative action based on race. Berkeley is prohibited by law from using race and does it based on socio-economic status. Meaning that relatively to Berkeley Stanford discriminates against poor kids to free up space for protected minorities.

I was a low-income student in Staford

What is the defining range of "low-income student" in this statement of yours, and in your several other comments in which you refer to other students? What is the boundary line between "low-income" and "middle-income" in your second bullet point?

When I started college, somewhere around $30k family income I think, no assets. I would have qualified for the free ride under the current rules. We were recent immigrants, my parents' income rapidly went up during my junior/senior year, so I've seen both sides of the picture.

I am a grad student at Stanford

What are typical graduate student stipends these days at Stanford? I have no idea.

I'm a CS master's student at Stanford, which means I don't get funding automatically. But with a 20 hr/week assistantship (TA or RA) I get my tuition refunded, which is about $8200, and a roughly $7000 stipend. That's for one quarter (quarters are Sep-Dec, Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun). It's enough to cover housing, food, and a little extra...but it's certainly frugal living.

In the sciences 20kish per nine months. Presumably a few thousand lower in the humanities, but I'm not sure. It's actually not that bad. The area is expensive and I can't afford a car, but it's enough to live comfortably.

I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My mother was a high school librarian and my father was a unionized janitor. By the standards of our community, we were considered well-off to the point of being gossiped about a bit. A couple of weeks into college, I was talking to a friend whose father was a physician. He asked of my family and then said, "Do you guys do OK?"

"Next fall, he plans to pursue sociology and will enter the Ph.D. program at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana"

Well, that will certainly not help his socioeconomic status.

During my undergraduate career, we had a speaker come in who was the subject of a recent novel. Growing up, he was a bright kid who lived in a miserable ghetto with violent, useless schools. He managed, somehow, to catch the attention of a local journalist who helped him get into college, where he excelled.

What did he choose to do with his college education? Did he choose to become an engineer, or a businessman?

No. He decided to get a PHD in Sociology and become a social worker.

I am mystified by the exceptional poor students that follow this path. Maybe they pursue subjects like sociology because it tells them that the reason they grew up poor is that society has wronged them. However, it is certainly an ineffective way to increase the prospects of themselves and their families.

Perhaps people who have managed to grow up without a lot of money better understand how to live a happy life with a job that doesn't pay $100k.

Let me quote a very famous person who grew up in poverty, Charles Dickens:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.

One secret to being happy with a $30k or $40k salary is to maintain a healthy perspective on your social class: If you know that a lot of people struggle to live on $18k, your $30k salary will fell fantastically great. Whereas if everyone you meet has a $150k salary and a trust fund, you'd better have the same or you will feel poor. Happiness is relative. That's the entire point of this article.

It's not surprising to find that many of the happiest grad students are people for whom a grad student salary seems quite adequate, even generous.

Huh? Charles Dickens was ravenous in the pursuit of money.

Hey, I didn't say this was a general theory of human motivation! This is merely a glib theory of human motivation!

(Indeed, I don't believe in a general theory of human motivation. Keeping your lifestyle from creeping up to a range in which you've got to rake in a large salary to feel adequate is merely one approach to keeping yourself happy. And it surely doesn't work for everyone.)

Maybe they go into sociology because they are good at it, or they enjoy it, or they can't find anything more lucrative, or (most likely of all) it was the first interesting opportunity to cross their path... exactly the same reasons anybody else would do it.

Some people measure their prospects in ways other than income.

And those people shouldn't be surprised if they remain poor.

This article is all about the deprivations that poor students experience in relation to rich students. I am merely pointing out that studying sociology is an ineffective way of alleviating these deprivations.

I missed the paragraph in the article that discussed how much happier they were than everybody else because they weren't pursuing money, but that is certainly another topic that can be discussed.

I do, however, think it odd that you can walk through a poor, violent ghetto and find a family who has a son that scored 1500 on the SAT and went to a good college. Maybe he is pursuing something "more important than money", but it would seem that money would be really important to someone in his situation.

"Following your dreams" is important, but it is foolish to dismiss the value of avoiding material deprivation and being financially independent.

I think we read it different ways. I read this as a "fish out of water" story, not a "sucks to be them" story.

Well off families tend to promote well-offness as a virtue to be striven for. Poor families don't tend to do that.

I feel like you're leaving out this whole gap between rich and living in the ghetto. There's, you know, middle class, which is where someone getting bachelors degree from Stanford and a PhD from Notre Dame in sociology is going to land.

I agree with you. This is a "fish out of water" story. Career aspirations are influenced by several factors; including socioeconomic status,race, parental expectation, parental occupations, and parental education level. I'm sure nearly all of those will negatively impact someone coming from the ghetto.

Neither one of my parents are athletes, and I don't know any professional athletes. And my parents have always valued academics over athletics. So while I'm sure I would be supported if I decided I wanted to become an athlete, it would not be the most convenient career path. I would have to find mentors myself, and start out with not a lot of significant support or career advice from the people in my life.

So if you look at it from a sociological perspective, he is definitely an outlier for even getting a phd. He personally experienced the differences in socioeconomic levels, so I can understand why he would be attracted to sociology.

Well off families tend to promote well-offness as a virtue to be striven for. Poor families don't tend to do that.

That doesn't match my experience. I've known plenty of students from low-income backgrounds whose parents were very much concerned that their kids make the most of their education in terms of future income. My ex majored in finance because she wanted to be able to take care of her parents (both postal workers) later in life.

On the other hand, I come from a reasonably well-off background, and my parents have never pressured me. I happen to like CS, which is fortunate, but my sister majored in history and they never gave her grief over it. (Of course, now she can't find a job, but that's a different story.)

Agree with you as well. I think the article really has been misinterpreted by most of those responding here.

Interesting point.

People who grew up poor often feel a responsibility to one's community over wealth. I know from growing up in a middle class family that I feel no real compulsion to wealth. That social worker money is enough, and that's what matters.

Some people study a subject they are interested in, and not one that might make them better off.

I've met my share of smart people that are unhappy or bored out of their skulls, because they pursued a career for "socioeconomic status". Me included.

I don't really understand this article. He was living in his Jeep? Didn't he bother making friends? I thought the whole point of college was to engage in Lord-of-the-Flies-style social hacking? That "one red paperclip" guy needs to teach this kid a thing or two...

Some people spent their high school years learning programming languages and reading books written by dead guys.

To these people, living in your jeep is a LOT less scary that asking one of your classmates if you can sleep on her couch.

Dude, he's getting a PhD in Sociology. For the sake of his research, I hope he's spent some time getting over his wealth anxiety and gaining a few social skills.

This is a prime example of why Peter Thiel and David Sacks wrote The Diversity Myth. (Note: I have neither a positive nor negative view on the contents of that book)

I agree this article was a little weird. But it can be hard to make friends across economic disparities. You can't join them for lunch out, or a weekend ski trip, or chip in towards the keg. The one red paper clip guy worked because it was a novelty. The rich kids at Stanford would eventually get tired of buying this guy lunch in exchange for paper clips or whatever, and he'd get tired of asking.

No way. Really rich people LOVE hard-working poor people -- it plays into the whole theory that smart, hard-working Americans will always come out ahead. Also, really rich people often understand that they are simply not as focused or motivated as the hard-charging kids who NEED to make their own money. This is useful for future business ventures, or if the family company needs to hire some young smart people.

The kids in this article sound totally lame, and seem to use their lack of income as an excuse for hating their wealthier peers. Yeah, a lot of rich people are utterly hilariously out of touch with the world, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't want to be your friend and do things with you. If you feel there is some sort of major tension, it's got more to do with you and your insecurities than with your affluent peers. In fact, if some rich kid were to act like a total snob to you because of your lack of money, there is ALWAYS a MUCH richer kid who would love nothing more than to have an opportunity to say to the snob, "dude, shut up - my family can buy yours ten times over." (True story.)

This isn't some theory of mine, either -- I'm pretty much the poorest person in my neighborhood, which has taught me quite a lot...

> I agree this article was a little weird. But it can be hard to make friends across economic disparities. You can't join them for lunch out, or a weekend ski trip, or chip in towards the keg.

Sure you can. Rich people can do the same sorts of things that poor people do (movies, keg parties, or even opera/symphony for example). (Yes, poor people have keg parties.)

Yes, there are rich people who only want to do "rich" things, but ....

Maybe he doesn't want to live in Saskatchewan.


I thought the whole point of college was to engage in Lord-of-the-Flies-style social hacking?

Please tell me more about this thought. I tend to think that the reason the low-income student should go to Stanford if admitted is precisely in order to meet a lot of students who are much better off. But I didn't try it myself (I attended a state university where I could afford to work my way through my degree program, knowing I wouldn't have any help from other family members), so I'd learn something from your experiences if you kindly shared them.

It sucks that he had to live in his Jeep, but--Stanford has a lot of work-study positions reserved especially for students like him. He can earn $12-$14 an hour shelving books and spend half the time studying. He could do research in sociology and get room, board, and a little money left over during the summer when he's not getting sizable fellowships from the Haas Center. In fact, if he did research, he wouldn't have to lose any housing at all! If he's still not able to find housing for two weeks, something's wrong with his money management ability or ability to seize the plentiful opportunities Stanford gives him on top of his free tuition, room, and board.

It sucks that he feels like a fish out of water, but come on--imagine how much worse it is for an international student. I knew a kid in my freshman dorm who had never seen a pumpkin before, didn't know what the hell it was. It's equally bad for someone who was an introvert, chronically shy, dumped into a dorm full of loud parties where someone was always going to the ER every weekend because they'd drunk too much. He has it pretty good, and I believe that Stanford has done the most it can at this point.

I'm slightly shocked that he also says he's moving to a poorer part of the country to get away from all us rich kids. Nobody I've ever met at Stanford has shown any disrespect or distaste for poor students. One of the most popular staff members in my co-op's getting the whole free ride from Stanford, plus tons of work-study opportunities. It's very sad that he's leaving because of some insecurity that's only in his own head.

He scored 1,320 out of 1,600 on the SAT.

That's the only part that stood out for me. I did a lot better than that but never dreamed of going to Stanford.

I attend(ed? graduating soon!) a college where all students received a full tuition scholarship - regardless of socioeconomic status. Besides being an effective "carrot" to attract students to a new engineering school (or, in some cases, persuading parents to allow their children to attend a new school), it was developed to help alleviate such disparities.

Yet I see the same difficulties as Stanford - the school is very competitive for admission, and there is little chance for some students to attend simply because there is no way they could have prepared themselves to be competitive.

As a side note, despite a generous endowment, my college is investigating charging a portion of tuition. Unfortunately, the harsh economy makes for some harsh decisions.

"Stanford says it admits the brightest students regardless of their ability to pay. Yet only 12 percent of Stanford's 6,759 undergraduates receive Pell Grants, a yardstick used to measure how many low-income students such as Scott are enrolled."

I think this has a lot more to do with the low quality of education in the United States (especially for low income families) that leads up to higher education, and a lot less to do with who Stanford decides to admit.

Should he consider studying part-time with a part-time job to sustain his life and interests? Or will he lose his scholarship for doing part-time?

I have learned from life that you don't need to rush as long as you know where you're heading and you are patient enough to work towards that goal. And there is no point to compare if you seriously know your strengths and passion. It is because you will succeed regardless of other people. :-)

Or will he lose his scholarship for doing part-time?

To answer your question: at Stanford, you have to take at least 12 units per quarter to be eligible for financial aid, unless you have special circumstances (i.e. illness). On top of that, I think you can go on academic probation if you don't take that many credits... Stanford doesn't really want you to do undergrad part-time.

Anyone remember when scholarships were for scholars?

They might feel left out at Stanford, but people are writing articles about them, so I don't feel too bad.

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