The Feeder School Advantage: Making “Insider Knowledge” Accessible to All

Harvard should invest in a bridge program to ensure that all students, regardless of prior educational background, can succeed.

While the heavy presence of students who come from a handful of elite public and private schools prior to college is undeniable on this campus, feeder schools that annually send multiple students to Harvard are indicative of a much larger issue in the nation’s education system. These schools were created to successfully do what government-funded public schools often cannot: provide a rigorous but supportive academic environment and a well-rounded education to ultimately prepare these students for college, often at elite institutions like Harvard.

Harvard cannot fix the educational disparities that lead to the creation of feeder schools, but it can ensure that the students who attend this University without the privilege or fortune of having come from one can excel here. Feeder schools give students an advantage because they instill a kind of “insider knowledge” about how to navigate academic and social spaces like Harvard. They are familiar with the academic and social culture of the College because often their school is modeled off of what is seen at elite institutions in terms of curriculum, class structure, interactions with faculty, extracurricular activities, and even social groups. They can also look to alumni who have attended these schools before them to explain the “ins and outs” and how to “game the system.” This can make their transition to Harvard and college in general much smoother than their peers.

Without a doubt, Harvard succeeds at making resources available to its students, but the problem lies with equal accessibility. It is not sufficient for the University to just provide the tools for success. Those who do not have the information often learned from attending feeder schools also need to be taught how to utilize these tools. The University should invest in a bridge program for those who would benefit most from such guidance–students who are first-generation, low-income, or come from an under-resourced background. The bridge program should be similar to what has been done at other Ivy League institutions, except it should encompass not only academic development, but also social knowledge.

This cannot just begin and end as students transition into Harvard, but must extend throughout their four years at the College. While the University does offer services to assist students, and after freshman year, upperclassmen do continue to have an advising system, a bridge program is a more centralized method to keep this support targeted and consistent for students at every stage of their time here. More than just investing in its implementation, the bridge program should be an administrative initiative and seen as a priority.

In the endeavor to provide more targeted support along with resources, Harvard should differentiate between communities that are first-generation, low income, or come from an under-resourced background, as well as the overlap between these groups. The administration must recognize that a student may be in need of this type of support even though they may not necessarily be a part of the first-generation community. It is important to meet students at their point of need and ensure all of those different communities are served.

In short, the existence of feeder schools and the comparatively high rate at which their students are admitted are not the primary issue. Rather, it is the edge students from these schools have over their peers once we all arrive on campus. The best way for the University to level the playing field in that regard is through an extended bridge program that teaches students how to navigate Harvard and take advantage of all it has to offer.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.