We are about three weeks away from the peak of the release of college admissions decisions, the time of year when students pull their hair out waiting to hear or pondering what they have heard. Along with trying to ease student angst, college admissions veterans know they can expect an inbox full of articles featuring the following content:
- Record of high applications in highly selective schools
- Highly selective schools are reporting new lows in admission rates (yes, those two are related, but most Americans don’t get it, thanks to the way we teach math in this country, so…)
- Calls for fairness in admissions follow record application year
We can expect these articles because they are written every year, partly to give an official account of what really happened, partly to provide some kind of consolation to students who did not receive the admission news they were hoping for (“See son? It was harder than ever to get in”) or to fatten the praise of those who did (“Wow! I beat all the chances in the most. competitive. year. ever!”)
To balance these “sky is falling” articles, I’m writing one that tries to keep everyone on a level playing field, so they can bring some stability to students and parents who are new to this. field, or who are starting over, and have forgotten how I felt the first time. Hardly anyone notices the article I’m writing – it’s apparently more fun being out there on rough seas than being safe in the harbor – but in the interests of trying to offer a little support, here we go:
- Not all apps are created equal. A college that reports a 5% admission rate does not mean that a particular student’s chance of getting in is 5%; this means that the college admits 5 out of 100 applications it receives. In other words, a student with a C average applying to Swarthmore does not have the same “chance” of being admitted as a student with a 3.9. Juniors should keep this in mind.
- Much of the college experience depends much more on what the student puts into the experience than where they experience it. A former student was admitted to a Seven Sisters college, which then proceeded to dismiss her for financial aid. She ended up at a public university, where she basically ran the global studies program where she graduated. This included fulfilling his desire to do a semester abroad in South Africa, even though his university did not offer study abroad there. She simply signed up as a visiting student at another college that did. Tell me she would have had any of those opportunities at Seven Sisters school. Go ahead.
- Notions of the need for change in the college admissions process are exaggerated. It takes about 20 minutes to apply to most colleges because they don’t require essays or letters from teachers. Since that’s about the same amount of time it takes to level up in Mario Brothers 812, it’s pretty safe to say that most students can complete this stress-free, life-altering task.
- Notions of change in the college admissions process are simplistic, Part I. Admissions watchers had a field day when COVID pushed many competitive colleges to take elective tests, a change that was taking long. the magnitude even before 2019. Two years later, we are now seeing an increase in “optional test consultants” who will advise students on which tests to take and which scores to submit, all for a fee. Likewise, we see some competitive colleges admitting fewer — far fewer — test-optional students than those who submit scores, but decide not to report it to the general public because the “test-optional” moniker is highly regarded. The result? A change that was supposed to make applying to college easier has made it more difficult in many cases, except at colleges where admission rates were generous to begin with – and those are the schools where applying takes 20 minutes, and reform of the candidacy was not necessary.
- Notions of change in the college admissions process are simplistic, part II. Undeterred by the lack of real parity brought about by many optional testing policies, many proponents of reform are now looking to teacher essays and letters of recommendation as next steps in the current process. This leads to two questions:
- If you remove all parts of the current application process (some even say grades shouldn’t be reported), what will you replace them with?
- Do you honestly think that what you answered in the last question can’t also be played to favor the rich? Interviews? Public Service? Baking cakes? Put any life experience or skill into the college application mix, and a year from now a horde of tutors will spring up that will give an advantage to students who can afford their services. It will be very difficult to beat.
- My annual plea for more college guidance counselor training. While it is safe to conclude that any admissions process will favor students who understand it, it is reasonable to conclude that it will favor any student who works with an advisor who understands them. So, instead of changing the admissions process, how about leveling the playing field by ensuring that all counselors receive extensive college counseling training? Less than 5% of all school counselor training programs spend time teaching college counseling, and sometimes that’s just how to register for the SAT. Private school college counselors have greater access to professional development that maintains their already sharp college counseling skills. Most public school counselors received their counselor training through a program that gave them no counseling skills. Which group needs to be better trained first?
That should be all you need to get through next month’s media madness. Release the dogs.