How are you supposed to reject a student just because they don’t have the privilege of living in a good school district, or the luxury of doing activities for enrichment instead of for survival?

But reject these students I did. All the time. It was the end result of our equation. More often than not, they’d end up in that squishy “maybe, maybe not” category, only to get bumped out of the pile by poor students and/or students of color who were given scholarships to go to prep schools, or attended one of the not-very-good public schools that we already had a relationship with. But poor students from poor schools we barely recognized would, most of the time, not end up standing out enough to make the cut — even the ones who showed glimmers of promise, like a really glowing letter or recommendation from a teacher or counselor advocating for their star student. Neither did most of the students who fit a slightly different profile: poor kids with just okay grades at competitive high schools who needed financial aid. You could guess why these kids performed worse than their richer peers: no money for tutoring; less time for homework; the pressures of crushing inequality. Whether or not these complicating factors were actually present and noted on a college application, these kids still got boiled down to numbers, which fell short. Poor students and/or students of color, should they be admitted, would have to be exceptional.