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Articles / Applying to College / Effect of "Parent Education" Question

Effect of "Parent Education" Question

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 6, 2010

Question: As a parent, I was asked about my high school/college and what year I graduated. I would like to know if the parents' level of education affects the student's college acceptance.

A parent's educational background can sometimes help put an applicant's information in perspective for admission officials. For example, if a student has very high grades in hard courses but only so-so test scores, the college folks may note that the parents did not attend college and may assume (erroneously or not) that the applicant has not been exposed to the same level of dinner-table discussion, cultural activities, etc. that were available to "competitor" candidates whose parents hold college degrees ... especially degrees from the snazziest schools.


Admission officials will often give the benefit of the doubt to good students whose parents aren't college grads or who attended little-known schools. (Occasionally, colleges even have merit scholarships that are specifically earmarked for "first-generation" students, so the parent-education question can be very important at these places.) Conversely, they may hold up high expectations for the sons and daughters of parents with multiple degrees and/or prestigious alma maters.

For the majority of candidates, however, the response to this question has little--or no--impact on admission outcomes. But admission officials do like to view applicants in the context of their environment, and this includes not only the high school environment but also the home-front one, too.

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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