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Articles / Applying to College / Does Blue-Collar Background Hurt Elite-College Admission Chances?

June 20, 2007

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.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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