Preparing for College

Does Blue-Collar Background Hurt Elite-College Admission Chances?

Question: My daughter is a straight-A student in honors and AP classes. She also dances professionally and has taken part in summer programs with major ballet companies. She is interested in applying to Stanford and we have been looking at the application. My husband is a house painter and I am a housewife. Why do the colleges want to know what a student's parents do for a living and their education level? Will the fact that we are not doctors or college professors hurt her?

Actually, the fact that you and your husband aren't doctors, college profs, and the like should work in your daughter's favor. Ever eager to diversify their student bodies, elite-college admission officials tend to have a soft spot for applicants from blue-collar backgrounds. Moreover, if neither you nor your husband earned a four-year college degree, that will be a plus, too, since high-achieving "first-generation" candidates are always in demand. (And, if you and/or your husband attended some college but never earned a bachelor's degree, make sure that's clear on the application.)

Colleges ask for parent occupations and educational backgrounds because it helps them to evaluate students in the context in which they grew up. In particular, blue-collar or "first generation" applicants may be given extra wiggle-room if their SAT scores aren't quite up to snuff.

Since it sounds like your daughter has been very successful both in and out of the classroom, she should certainly forge ahead with her application to Stanford and other top colleges. Note, too, that Stanford has a special, optional application supplement for students with talent in the arts. Your daughter should be sure to complete it. Other colleges often have the same thing, so look for these supplements on Web sites or ask admission offices to send them via snail mail.