As a high school senior dealing with the college admissions process, I know a few things about needless pain. I didn’t expect choosing what to do with the rest of my life to be quite such a problem. But that’s not the worst of it. I discovered the worst of it when I was sitting in the rusty desk-chair in my guidance counselor’s office.

I discovered the dirty little secret of college admissions. I’d always hoped that this process would be a model of intellectual enlightenment, but, woe, my naiveté confounds me.

The college admissions process is all about class.

I know the average PWW reader will immediately think: “of course it’s based on class!” and the oppositional reader will think: “it’s fair and objective, what is this guy talking about?” but it’s true: students in public high schools are guided along certain avenues of study based not on interest or best interest but on social class.

Here’s an example: I am a rich student. My parents are white rich landowners who, in turn, are the progeny of other white rich landowners. My good friend Amber, however, comes from a relatively working-class, single-parent background. We take the same classes and have approximately the same grades, and are both primarily interested in the study of philosophy. It should be obvious, right? Our guidance counselor should steer both of us toward the same high-caliber schools with high-caliber philosophy departments. Think again.

I was given expert information on the strength of various philosophy programs. I was given rates and statistics about Ph.D. and master’s degree programs. Ultimately the information afforded me by the College Board and by guidance counselors primarily involved a certain ivy-walled school in Cambridge, Mass. But what of my friend Amber?

She was given a market test. What is a market test, you ask? It is a system of questions designed to fit a high school senior’s personality to a certain job that analysts predict will be in high demand in upcoming years. Among these jobs are acupuncturist, medical assistant and paralegal. I was handed the fast track to professorship. She was handed a book on how to become a masseuse.


How could this happen? The same admissions officer tells me I can lecture on the meaning of life and tells her she can rub the trapezius major to relieve stress in the heart chakra. It seems to me to boil down to the concept of “realistic success.” The reasonably dumb rich kid is more likely to “succeed” in an intellectually rigorous profession such as law than a reasonably smart poor kid, because the reasonably dumb rich kid is told that “realistic success” is becoming a lawyer for $100 an hour, and the reasonably smart poor kid is told that “realistic success” is becoming a paralegal for $20 an hour. People believe it when they’re told what they can and cannot be. Guidance counselors, promoting the capitalist mindset, tie the wealth of a student when he or she comes into the office to the extent to which that student can achieve.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Marx describes the dictatorship of capital consisting first of binding the means of production to the market, with the proletariat forced to sell their labor in a market controlled by those who own the goods they produce. The proletarian sells sweat not sweaters. Has college now taken on the same quality? Must proletarian students now sell their minds to future production rather than to education? The long and short of the matter is that the guidance counselor sees success for Amber at $60,000 a year and a three-room suburban, while the same counselor sees success for me at $600,000 a year and a penthouse with Manhattan skyline. She is told to bend to the market, I am told to make the market bend for me.

Is it fair? Hell no. But it’s capitalism. Maybe someday the working class will have the same opportunity for education as the upper class. Maybe someday class won’t matter in what college admissions officers expect students to want. Until then, working-class students have the hope that maybe one day, with the right education, they’ll be able to give rich people back rubs for $80 an hour.

Roger Hobbs, 18, is the author of “Flood Tribes: Sahara’s Requiem.” His web site is . He is still applying to colleges.