How privilege unfairly tips the scales for university applications

How privilege unfairly tips
Design: Fatima Jahan Ena

"Lekhapore kore je, gari-ghora chore she"

This is an age-old Bengali saying that directly translates to, "Those who study travel in cars and on horses." Chanted by murobbis (elderly persons) to motivate kids to study, it cultivates the dream in our impressionable young minds that studying hard will undeniably earn us a life of luxury.

However, at some point in our high school journey, we realise that hard work is only ever proportional to success in the most ideal of cases. Before even considering whether your family can pay the hefty tuition fees for foreign students, fulfilling the admission criteria alone requires you to come from a position of privilege.

It is definitely possible to apply abroad after studying the NCTB curriculum, but you will have to work harder as internationally recognised school credentials tip the scales. Foreign universities also require a holistic student profile, meaning extracurricular activities (ECAs) alongside grades are very important. Therefore, it is also a point of privilege if you attend a school that has adequate resources to offer well-rounded ECA opportunities, which is more common in expensive English medium schools. The teachers of such schools are also more adept at writing impactful recommendation letters for their students.

Regardless of where you graduate from, affording the expensive standardised testing, where oftentimes repeated sittings increase the odds of a good score, is another hurdle of privilege you need to be able to pass.

Given how application fees tend to be quite hefty, a lot of us apply to fewer universities, decreasing the odds for acceptance. A lot of students end up not applying at all, as their admission depends on uncertain financial assistance to cover the expenses.

Now, if you're a 'good' student, with good grades, you'll be given scholarships, right?

Not really. Merit-based scholarships are rarer than need-based scholarships with more competition, since people who have always had access to more tutoring, better schooling, and more help are also eligible. 

Many institutions don't offer financial aid for international students, and when they do, a student with a similar profile as you, but with a bit more financial security, is likely to be accepted. Therefore, if you need financial aid, you're likely to be accepted to universities you're overqualified for, having to compromise on the rank or quality for the sake of affordability.

Ultimately, in the final year of school, we witness people who had toiled and yearned less than us all along, attending our dream universities.

If you're on the flip side of the coin, please recognise the tremendous privilege you have been granted. When you're talking to your friends about your university plans, be mindful of their circumstances. Judge the things you should share, and what you should complain about, accordingly.

Spending such a large part of the youth that we can't get back working toward academic success, but being held back in key stages because of factors beyond our control, is a demoralising experience. The system is broken. It is unfair. It makes me angry, frustrated, and sad. We can only persevere, and hope that some amongst us will fix it someday.

Amrin's confusion is at its peak, she's been screaming internally for a while now. Send help at [email protected]


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