I'm a Junior interested in going to top-tier schools. I am from a family with low incomes (less than $35,000), and I'm also in the free/reduced lunch program at my school. I have very good academics (top 1% in my class) which I am not worried about. However, I recently read a book on admissions and heard from people that being a student from a low-income family inhibits chances of getting into prestigious colleges. Is this true? And if it is, what can I do to increase my chances as a student from a low income family? Please be very honest. Thank you!
Almost all top colleges have need-blind admissions policies, which means your parents' income level will not factor into their decisions. Prestigious schools that are need-blind for domestic applicants include:
Pomona College Princeton University
Williams College Yale University
If you don't see some of the schools that interest you, check out this full listing of need-blind schools to see if they're included. Top colleges want to attract talent regardless of income level, and their endowments are so large that they can afford generous financial aid packages for students from low income families.
I do want to point out, however, that although most top colleges are need-blind, they do tend to accept more high income than low income students. These students aren't accepted based on their ability to pay, but a student's family income level often plays into his or her level of college readiness. Higher income students attend more well-funded high schools and thus have exposure to better academic opportunities before college. This is an interesting article about the issues surrounding representation of low income students at top colleges if you're interested in learning more.
Overall, I wouldn't worry about your chances based on your parents' income. If you earn excellent grades and test scores and can show these schools that you're passionate about learning, you'll have good odds of being accepted regardless of how much you can afford to pay.