One of the assets that benefits a new college student is cultural capital. Students who come from a family that has a tradition of college education have an advantage in knowing what to expect when they arrive at the college gate. In addition, they have been aware of how to prepare for college, which high school courses to take, and how to write an admissions essay. Leibowitz defines cultural capital as "an attitude of certainty and entitlement, which is close to 'recognition' or the sense of being recognized as a learner" (265). This additionally adds to the motivation of the student as "social and cultural capital have a positive effect on student persistence in postsecondary education" (Wells). This advantage can mean the difference between persevering in the face of adversity, or dropping out after struggling for one semester.
Failing to prepare for college is the number one cause of failure in the academic setting. Students not only need to learn what to study, they need to be instructed on how to study. High schools with low numbers of students who plan on college usually don't spend their time instructing the senior class on how to write a college essay. For the few that do get accepted and enter college, the rigors of the courses can be overwhelming. According to Contreras, "When they are presented with college-level work, they think they have landed on Mars without a dictionary. The world of learning is a foreign land to them". New students will need to be skilled at writing, reading, research, and critical thinking. Many of these activities are considered non-essential activities in many of our poorer schools. Take a look at the high school that the student attended for a good predictor of the potential for success at college.
In addition to the social capital and preparation that helps guide a student in their selection of an appropriate school and a major, there is the pragmatic challenge of getting accepted. Limited numbers of openings often mean some people are eliminated. People who have had less of an advantage in preparing for the SAT or honors courses, may be rejected and repeat the family's history of failing to attend college. This has often been a disadvantage of people that are challenged by their racial or ethnic, minority, or socio-economic status. Affirmative action policies have attempted to compensate for this inequality in the educational system. However, it has been the subject of decades of debate. Ill-prepared students will naturally do poorly on the SAT, while more affluent students will have access to individual instruction on taking this critical test. However, "When a task force in 1977 recommended discontinuing the SAT, many professors were suspicious of what they perceived to be an "anti-testing" bias; they thought that affirmative action was undermining standards and that criticisms of the SAT were just a part of racial politics" (Snares). Many universities have attempted to incorporate both test scores and diversity as measures of the contribution to the institution as well as markers for probable success.
In conclusion, the most important tool that a student can have when they arrive at their first year of academic exposure