In the United States, critics of the college admissions process have often focused on its negative psychological and intellectual effects. Numerous bestselling books (e.g., Excellent Sheep) have argued that the college “rat race” has forced students to pay attention to things (test scores, grades, etc.) that don’t actually matter. The result? Unnecessary stress, mind-numbing materialism, and the forgoing of the chance to get a truly meaningful education.
“The film tracks five students who’re attending college in various cities across the United States, like Boston, Akron, and Atlanta.”
In Unlikely, co-directors Adam and Jaye Fenderson draw attention to another, frequently overlooked consequence of the college admissions process: economic inequality. To put it simply, the film tracks five students who’re attending college in various cities across the United States, like Boston, Akron, and Atlanta. Along the way, the Fendersons supplement these personal stories with interviews of college presidents, politicians, and philanthropists like Lebron James and Howard Schultz.
The gist of the Fendersons’ argument is simple. These days, most colleges care more about their U.S. News ranking than anything else. However, U.S. News’ rankings use criteria (e.g., average SAT scores) that rich students usually do better on. As a result, America’s most “elite” colleges have incentives to admit as few low-income students as possible. These students consequently end up at colleges that have fewer resources to support them, thereby making it more likely that these students will end up in debt and drop out before graduation.