This time of year, high school seniors across the US are finding out which colleges and universities have accepted them. And tens of thousands of straight A students will inevitably have their hopes dashed. After all, the nation’s most competitive colleges admit just ten percent of their applicants, sometimes fewer.

So who does get into the Ivy Leagues and the nation’s most prestigious colleges?

Author Daniel Golden has found that many of them are not academic stars but they are well-connected, which means they are highly prized by college development offices. “Children of alumni, children of wealthy donors, of celebrities, of politicians. People who represent the connected elite in our society,” he explains.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Golden

Golden is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and now Senior Editor at ProPublica. A little over a decade ago, he wrote a book called The Price of Admission, which reveals how the elite finagle spots for their children at top colleges.

In this podcast, Golden tells us that things have gotten worse in the decade since he wrote the book. He explains that elite colleges, which are also nonprofits, need to cultivate new donors and keep their current ones happy. As a result, many accept weaker students who are wealthy or well-connected. This means that fewer seats are going to low or middle class applicants who lack connections and who Golden says have to “walk on water” to get in.

Golden insists that colleges have “a mission to fulfill the American dream of finding diamonds in the rough” and doesn’t believe they are living up to that goal by favoring students of privilege. He also explains why sports scholarships often favor white, elite athletes, how college admissions discriminate against Asian American students, and how “universities can raise plenty of money without prostituting the admissions process.”

Additional Resources:

Golden’s Bio

The Price of Admission on Amazon

The New York Times Review (2006): The Price of Admission

Golden’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal articles on college admissions

Golden’s ProPublica article: The Story Behind Jared Kushner’s Curious Acceptance into Harvard

Golden’s Pacific Standard article: Jared Kushner Isn’t Alone: Plenty of Universities Still Give Rich and Connected Applicants a Leg Up

Gawker article: How the Rich Get Into Ivies: Behind the Scenes of Elite Admissions

Time article: Many Colleges Offer Affirmative Action for the Rich and Powerful

Golden on Twitter