GenHERation Discovery Days 2019

This one is for the girls!

GenHERation Discovery Days 2019 are immersive summer day trips that provide high school and college women with the opportunity to visit more than 50 of the most innovative companies in America.

WHO?

  • High school and college women

WHAT?

  • Visit the most innovative companies in America
  • Engage with female executives
  • Participate in skill-building simulations
  • Earn exclusive rewards and scholarships

WHERE/WHEN?

Dallas: Monday, June 24, 2019

  • Capital One, Pizza Hut, Fossil, and EY

Austin: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

  • NFP, Google, and IBM

Seattle: Monday, July 8-Tuesday, July 9, 2019

  • Seattle Mariners, Getty Images, Expedia, Amazon, and Nordstrom

Los Angeles: Wednesday, July 10-Thursday, July 11, 2019

  • AllSaints, CBS, Los Angeles Lakers, Netflix, and EY

San Francisco: Monday, July 15-Tuesday, July 16, 2019

  • Zynga, IBM, Twitter, Pixar, Salesforce, Facebook, Lucasfilm, and EY

Chicago: Thursday, July 18, 2019

  • EY Executive Round Table

Charlotte: Monday, July 22-Tuesday, July 23, 2019

  • John M Belk Endowment, Atrium Health, Red Ventures, NASCAR Hall of Fame, and NFP

Washington, D.C.: Wednesday, July 24-Thursday, July 25, 2019

  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NASA, Capital One, National Geographic, and EY

New York City: Wednesday, July 31, 2019

  • Google, Viacom, Bloomingdale’s, and EY

Philadelphia: Tuesday, August 6, 2019

  • Urban Outffiters, DLL, Hartford Funds, and Philadelphia 76ers

WHY?

  • The only experience that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at your favorite companies
  • Meet the most powerful female leaders in America
  • Explore different career paths
  • Share your resume with top companies across the country
  • Jump-start you career
  • Our last three summer tours were recognized as the largest career exploration trips in the United States and celebrated by Former First Lady Michelle Obama

Learn how GenHERation member Clayton B. got an internship with the Oprah Winfrey Network through Discovery Days here. Check out this Fast Company article to learn how Ariana S. received her first job on our Discovery Days bus.

Tickets sell out fast, buy them HERE!

College Rejection or Waitlist? Try Practicing Gratitude

It is already March—time flies when you are applying to college! Although an exciting time for many students and parents, others feel a significant amount of disappointment, anger, and confusion as admissions decisions roll out. Many of these feelings stem from rejections or waitlist responses from our country’s most selective schools, but it does not have to be this way.

I hope students who are at the end of their journey take some time in March to reflect and see the positives—personal growth, self-actualization, maybe even becoming a better writer—in light of waitlists, rejections, or other perceived failures. Just making it through this process—and high school today—is no joke, so I suggest starting there as a place to see how far you have come! The students I work with are so accomplished, every single one of them, and they have a lot to feel proud of daily. Sometimes it just takes a moment or ten of honest reflection to see and internalize all of the good. It also helps to remember that a college rejection is not personal. Your file and profile was rejected, not who you are as a person/human.

It is also critical to keep in mind that where you go to college does not determine your happiness, your success in life, or set your future path in stone. This has been true since before Frank Bruni told us so. What is more important is much more personal—like how hard you work and how you treat others. To me, that is what will take you far in life.

So try practicing gratitude during this time, even though it may feel hard. Lynn Goldberg at Tiny Buddha has some great tips for getting started:

1. Keep a gratitude journal.

Make gratitude a daily habit. Every day, jot down ten great things that happened to you or that you are grateful for. Keeping your focus on the positive will really make a difference.

2. Practice present moment awareness.

The habit of being fully present and not wishing for something in the future or the past—but just being grateful for what is—can really shift your perspective. Catch yourself when that moment escapes you, and gently remind yourself to come back.

3. Think bigger than yourself.

Become involved in a cause that is important to you. As you become aware of other people who are less fortunate than you, you will start to feel a deeper appreciation for what you do have. Many of us have so much.

4. Share the love with your family and friends.

Cultivate an appreciation for others and let them regularly know that you are grateful for them and for what they do for you—whether it be helping with homework or always inviting you out to do something fun. Focusing on the positive will make people want to keep doing it, and help you realize you should be doing the same.

5. Replace complaints with gratitude.

When you find yourself focusing on what you believe you’re lacking—I wish my car were nicer, I had more money, or I got into a “better” college—replace it with thoughts of what you are thankful for.

To all the college applicants out there who know where they are headed at the end of the summer, this advice applies to you, too. And to everyone else still waiting to hear, still waiting to decide, or who is going to tough it out on the waitlist this spring and into summer, stay positive and remember:

“Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications are not your life.” (JK Rowling)

I will be posting more thoughts from Rowling about “failure” later this month, from one of my favorite tiny books, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.

 

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Transparency in College Admissions: Essays

Some college and universities do not require any essays to submit an application. These schools do not care about essays.

Some college and universities only require a personal statement, but do not require any supplemental essays to apply. These schools care about essays.

Some college and universities require a personal statement and supplemental essays to apply. These schools really care about essays.

So, essays—aka your voice and personal story, not just your “numbers”—do matter if the schools you are applying to require essays as part of their application. Within these schools, there might be varying degrees of weight put on essays; some schools weight them with greater importance than others. Pro tip: instead of trying to figure who cares about them a lot and who cares about them a little, if they request them, consider them important and put effort into them.

Now, whether they are required or not, they do not matter as much as two other application components: your grades and your test scores (if applying to colleges that require test scores). If you are not in the ballpark with these two components, your essays won’t matter that much. Beautiful prose won’t negate a transcript of subpar grades or test scores that are far below a college’s average scores.

Given the importance of essays, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you write the personal statement, taken straight from the FAQ we give our clients:

I am student body president/lacrosse team captain/editor of my school paper/founder of the Computer Science Club/president of the biggest community service effort at my school/insert something else super impressive here—I’m obviously going to write about that for my personal statement (PS), right?

Not necessarily. The reader needs to walk away from the essay having learned something about you that he/she can’t glean from the rest of your application material, and we will actively discourage you from writing about any academic or extracurricular accomplishments that are already clearly communicated from your resume or the activities section of your application. There will be plenty of other ways to highlight these aspects of your profile, including your application data, resume, interviews, and supplemental essays and/or interest letters, where applicable. If you want to write about being student body president etc. because being president precipitated some serious personal crisis—then, yes, you might write about that. But if you want to write about being student body president because you think it looks “impressive” to colleges, we will steer you away. They will already be impressed by seeing it on your resume!

Should my PS relate to my intellectual interests and potential major?

Again, not necessarily. Cultural, literary or academic references (e.g., an intellectual or academic interest, connection to future major of study, etc.) can add to an essay, but if you have a compelling personal story, they are usually not needed.

What do you mean when you say “show, don’t tell” or talk about “concrete” versus “abstract” language?

A personal essay like the PS should be written more like a short story or a novel than an academic essay. This means it should include vivid, descriptive, and concrete language. When I use the word concrete, I am talking about using specific details. An example of a specific and concrete sentence is: “I woke up at 6am to my phone blaring ‘Come as You Are’ by Nirvana. I’d had the same alarm for six years, and I still loved it.” This is an exciting opening with interesting details that create a sense of a unique voice and personality and makes me want to keep reading.

An example of a non-concrete sentence on the same topic is: “I like to wake up early.” This sentence doesn’t give me any details and doesn’t have much personality; I feel like anyone could have written in it. I’m less inclined to keep reading and already less disposed to like the essay.

An example of an abstract sentence is: “I need to be true to myself.” The use of a conventional idiom makes the sentence boring and vague—what does it mean for you to be true to yourself, in whatever context you’re discussing? I’m not sure. Again, I get the sense anyone could have written it.

A strong PS will need to strike a balance between concrete and abstract (but not cliché) language—between action and narrative (concrete) and reflection on that action (abstract).

And a few general tips for supplements:

What do I write my supplements about?

As with the personal statement, the best supplemental essays (or “supps” as we call them) provide the admissions committee with new insight into who you are. This doesn’t mean you won’t mention anything that’s also on your resume; in fact, you often will be explicitly asked to do so. However, supps are not merely an opportunity to rehash your resume or the activities section of the Common Application. They are a place to go beyond the facts of what you did and when—a place to provide insight into your motivations for pursuing an interest, to discuss obstacles you’ve faced in the process, or even, potentially, to talk about why you quit. So, like the PS, they can be personal when at all possible. The supplemental essays are, above all, a chance for you to ‘supplement’ your personal statement with more information into who you are and what makes you tick. In addition, many provide the perfect platform to highlight your knowledge of—and demonstrated interest in—the school, which never hurts.

Since most are shorter than the personal statement, they will be much easier to write, right?

Many students believe short essays are easier to write than long essays, but in reality, they are much harder because they require you to choose your details wisely; you can’t say everything you might want to say. We suggest you write long essays first not only because they tend to be easier to write, but also because you can recycle long essays whenever possible, and cut them down to work for shorter essays on the same or a similar prompt.

To conclude, essays matter. They are one area of your application that you have complete creative control over, and where you have the opportunity to possibly “wow” the admissions committee. No committee is typically wowed by a perfect GPA or set of perfect test scores—those are not uncommon anymore!

If you want 1:1 guidance to brainstorm for and then write the best personal statement and supplements possible, contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.

 

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A Note on the College Admissions Cheating Scheme

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and its members (like us!) are committed to helping families find the most appropriate colleges for their students and assist families in navigating the application process. Following a comprehensive code of ethics, IECA members are professionals who understand and adhere to high ethical standards in all their interactions with clients and institutions and are compensated by and work exclusively on behalf of their client families.

In response to the breaking news of an FBI probe and Justice Department charges for 50 people—college officials from elite institutions, wealthy parents, coaches, and others—in a long-running admissions bribery scheme, IECA CEO Mark Sklarow said, “The charges presented today exemplify the intense anxiety that even some wealthy parents feel about their children being admitted to their preferred colleges.”

All parents and students should keep the following advice in mind as they begin their college search.

  • The college search and application process should be a fun and exciting time for students and their families. If anyone in any setting is exerting pressure or causing undue anxiety and pressure, be cautious. If you are told someone has “inside” information, can pull strings, provide shortcuts to admission, or give you a special advantage (for a fee or otherwise), you are being misled.
  • There are many great postsecondary options for every student, and no student should be made to feel that they must become something they are not to get accepted. The “best” school is the school that fits a student academically, socially, and financially. Being and presenting one’s authentic self and demonstrating one’s own talents and abilities is a way of ensuring the right college fit. This is central to what an ethical independent educational consultant does.
  • The vast majority of admissions officers, school counselors, and IECs are ethical and compassionate professionals who dedicate their careers to advising students and families.

If you decide to seek help with the college search and application process outside of the school setting, ensure that you hire someone who is a member of a professional organization, such as IECA or NACAC, that requires them to abide by the highest ethical standards. A fully vetted independent educational consultant (IEC) will be solely concerned about an individual student’s well-being and helping to gain admission to a school where they will thrive and succeed on their own merits.

 

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Class of 2023 Regular Decision Notification Dates

College and universities are gearing up to release regular decision results this month and into April. Schools often post results in advance of their “official” notification dates, but with many reporting a record number of applications again this year, we will see.

My favorite college-admissions-related data site, College Kickstart, has compiled the most recently updated dates along with the notification dates from last year, which might help you predict when a school will release early if they do. Bookmark this page, as they post updates often.

 

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Applicants

Stephen R. Covey’s self-improvement book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is based on his belief that the way we see the world has to do with our perceptions. So, to change any given situation, we must change ourselves. And to change ourselves, we must be able to change our perceptions.

One of my goals for my work as an IEC is to help both students and their parents see the college search and application process for what it is; to help families gain clarity and develop an approach that values transparency and less stress for all involved. Covey’s habits, at their core, translate nicely to how families can intentionally approach the college search and application process.

Covey’s seven habits focus on being proactive, creating end goals, taking things one step at a time, having a win-win attitude, seeking to understand others (schools in this case), valuing differences, and making time for reflection and relaxation. Below, I’ve translated them into my own language:

  1. Be Proactive = Get in the driver’s seat (and stay there!)
  2. Begin with the End in Mind = Set realistic and attainable goals
  3. Put First Things First = Take it one step at a time
  4. Think Win-Win = Create a ‘winning’ application strategy
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood = Understand colleges on a deeper level
  6. Synergize = Craft a synergistic college list
  7. Sharpen the Saw = Take a water break (it’s a marathon, not a sprint)

Let’s break down each habit:

Get in the driver’s seat (and stay there!). First thing is first: students need to be in the driver’s seat. Not mom, not dad. Parents: if you are spearheading all efforts you are doing your student a disservice. If they are not ready to get in the driver’s seat and own this process they might not be ready to go to college. It is that simple. Do not do this process for them. Students: it is understandable to need support as you research and apply to colleges. However, don’t take advantage of your parent’s anxiety around this important milestone. Once you get to college, you will need to go it on your own; think of this as the first step toward making that a positive reality.

Set realistic and attainable goals. Realistic: having or showing a sensible and practical idea of what can be achieved or expected. Attainable: can be attained, achieved. Parents and students need to set realistic (practical) and attainable (achievable) goals for the college search and application process. For example, most students don’t get into Harvard even if their profile makes them qualified. There is a huge difference between being qualified and being competitive. Attainable goals are realistic goals; please be realistic. Also, keep in mind that what might be realistic, or what might even be attainable, might not be ideal for you (financially) or your student (socially, culturally, academically). Try to keep the end game in mind and look beyond the name of a school or its rank or perceived prestige. So much more matters so much more.

Take it one step at a time. The college search and application process is best approached like a marathon, not a sprint. Treat it as such, take your time. Break it down into manageable parts. I like to break the year down into three chunks: summer, fall, winter/spring. Plan for one chunk at a time and tackle what is needed within that period. Slow and steady tends to win this race.

Create a ‘winning’ application strategy. There are plenty of colleges out there for everyone. You can create a winning search and application strategy by first setting realistic and attainable goals, and then by developing a winning mindset. To me, a winning mindset sees this process as more than just a process but as a journey. It also means knowing that if you put in max effort, and your best foot forward, things will work out just as they should. You will go to college! Will it be the college you had your heart set on? Maybe not. But you will go, and I have found that even the students that do not get into their first choice end up very very happy wherever they land. Things just work out this way in most cases! When you see this process for what it is—a means to an end and then something that you quickly forget about—you can approach it with less stress, less fear, and more positivity. That is a winning strategy.

Understand colleges on a deeper level. The most attractive applicants know the schools they are applying to well, and they convey this understanding through multiple parts of the application (essays, interviews, additional correspondence with the school before and after applying). The student who applies to 20 schools? They don’t know many or maybe even any of those schools well in most cases. The students I work with 1:1 (at least the ones who take my advice in its entirety) understand schools deeply by talking with current students, connecting with faculty, meeting with alumni, sitting in on classes, taking classes virtually, touring colleges virtually, creating a meaningful history of correspondence with their regional reps, and so much more. You can do all of these things if you plan for the long game.

Craft a synergistic college list. Part of creating a winning application strategy, beyond realistic and attainable goals and a positive mindset, is a list that reflects this understanding and that takes into account more than just grades, test scores, and preferences. Families need to hash out the college list together and make it work beyond base metrics. Students: you need to include your parents because they often provide support and insights that are highly beneficial. Considerations like early decision have financial implications; you need clarity on these and other considerations before applying ED. Parents: this does not mean you get to dictate the entire list. You (most likely) already went to college, so remember to use your influence with caution and try to not live vicariously through your student.

Take a water break (it’s a marathon, not a sprint). My husband runs marathons so I know there are people out there who can run very very far without stopping (cheers to you all!). But thankfully, this is just an analogy, and you can take water breaks along the way and still finish in record time (you know what I mean). Please take breaks along the way because this is a long journey! Taking a break does not mean stopping the process completely, it just means you are taking the time necessary to recharge and reset; this applies to both students and parents.

 

 

March Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors

  • Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track the status of each application online to ensure that all of your application materials were received. Check your junk email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from colleges.
  • Watch as the decisions roll in! If you end up on any waitlists, check out our WL advice.
  • If you are “in” at a top choice school and are ready to put down a deposit, remember to take a few minutes to thank all of the people who helped you along the way!

Juniors

  • Curious what schools super-score the ACT? SAT? Some schools super-score one test but not the other! Read more here: https://www.compassprep.com/superscore-and-score-choice
  • Keep prepping for standardized tests (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject tests) and working hard in all of your classes; your grades this year are very important, and your test scores are, too (if you are applying to schools that require test scores).
  • Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application? This is a critical part of the process that should be determined now so you can make sure your classes and extracurricular involvements support indicating this interest.
  • Many 2019 summer program applications are now open. Please begin thinking about your plans for summer 2019 now and work on applications if needed. Aim to solidify summer plans by April.
  • Schedule college visits. Are you going to sit in on a class? Do you want to try to meet with someone in your intended department of interest (major, minor, etc.)? Not all schools offer formal pathways to these opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them happen. Try to meet with as many people as you can on campus to really get a sense of what campus life is like—this means students, too!
  • Some colleges open up on-campus interviews this spring. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative.
  • Open a Common App account and get familiar with the system. Accounts rollover year-to-year, so there’s no better time than now to open an account and familiarize yourself with the system.

Sophomores & Freshmen

  • Work on building out your resume. Make sure to add new activities, awards, etc. as the year goes on, and what you do over the summer, too.
  • Will you be taking SAT Subject Tests this spring or starting your SAT or ACT prep this spring/summer? Now is the time to put a plan in place.
  • Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application? Do you have a clearly defined “story” for your college apps as it pertains to your academic interest(s)? This is a critical part of your application that you can and should be determining now.
  • Many 2019 summer program applications are now open, and some will be closing soon, so work on applications if needed. If you do not have summer plans yet, now is the time to start outlining some.
  • Add an online course that relates to what you might study in college to your summer activities list. I can’t recommend courses via edX or Coursera highly enough. Not only will you gain exposure to and learn more about an area of interest, but this type of learning also works wonders on college applications, especially as detail to include in essays! 

 

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Transparency in College Admissions: Disciplinary Records

Defenders of the use of disciplinary records in college admission believe they are an important way for schools to keep students with behavioral or character ‘issues’ off their campuses, while most opponents feel high school disciplinary records have little predictive value and stigmatize students for minor infractions. One thing that remains constant is that many colleges still collect disciplinary information, and most students who report an infraction are very worried about the outcome of their application.

However, what I want to point out in this post is that reporting a disciplinary infraction is not a total application killer! Admissions officers understand that people make mistakes; they were high school students once, too. Most infractions are minor, and colleges are sympathetic if the student is forthright, the incident is thoughtfully explained, and they can meaningfully reflect on their growth from it.

Here is how disciplinary information is currently collected on the Common Application:

Once you check yes, the space to write a short essay appears, as well as one other question:

I have worked with and read the applications of many students with disciplinary records, ranging from academic dishonesty and getting caught drinking to being arrested for a felony—and I have found that not all disciplinary infractions are treated equally. Some infractions are seen as very minor while others are taken quite seriously and could make admission to a top-top school hard. Let’s break down some different types of offenses (of course there are others, but these are a few I have experience with and hear about most frequently from other counselors):

  • Minor incident (common): minor school-based disciplinary matters; drinking
  • Moderate incident (slightly less common): suspension from school; marijuana
  • Severe incident (not that common): expulsion from school; other drugs, academic dishonesty, arrest (misdemeanor/felony), other character-based offenses such as stealing, bullying, sexual assault, etc.

One caveat: how the infraction is viewed will also depend somewhat on the school you are applying to. School’s with strong honor codes (UVA, Davidson, William, and Mary) might view offenses more seriously than other schools, so keep that in mind.

I know students who reported infractions across all three categories, and all of them still got into college. No application process was completely ruined. A few examples: one who reported both a moderate and minor infraction now attends an Ivy League school. One who reported what I consider a severe incident (academic dishonesty) is graduating from a top fifteen school (and was competitive for but denied from all Ivies). I believe each applicant’s disciplinary essay is where they were able to turn a mistake into a positive point of self-reflection that allowed the admissions committee to see their personal growth and commitment to it since the incident. Here’s how I typically have students outline this short, 400-word essay:

  • Explain what happened as concisely as possible (~100 words)
  • Present what was going on at the time, if anything, that might have lead to a lapse in judgment (~100 words)
  • Discuss how you remedied the situation and began to work on yourself to ensure it or something like it will never happen again (~100 words)
  • Reflect on the journey, walk the reader through what you learned (and how you are applying these learnings if applicable), and then close touch on how you have grown from navigated it (~100 words)

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I closely follow the Georgia Tech admissions blog, and often re-post or link to their posts because of the light they so often shed on this complicated process. As I write this, Rick Clark posted about this very topic. I hope his words will also help you see that this does not have to be an application killer:

Ownership.  Answer the questions honestly and thoroughly on your application or reach out personally and immediately to a school who has admitted you, if you have some type of infraction post-admit. Every year we receive emails and calls from other students, principals, counselors, “friends,” or others in the community informing us of discipline/behavior/criminal matters involving an applicant or admitted student. It is much, much better to be honest and proactive than to have an admission counselor receive information from another source and have to contact you to provide an explanation of circumstances.

“My friends made me…” “I didn’t want to but…” “I tried to tell them it was wrong…” and the list goes on. Please. I am begging you, PLEASE be sure none of these phrases are in your application. Whether at home, at school, or at work, disciplinary action is serious. If you have something to report, own it. Drunk at prom? Arrested at 2 a.m. for re-distributing neighbors’ leaves back across their yards after they’d lined and bagged them at the street? “Borrow” the car in the middle of the night by putting it in neutral and coasting out of the driveway with the lights off? We’re listening.

Application evaluation, individualized discipline review, life in general… it’s nuanced, complicated, and grey. Why did you choose to do that? What did you learn from it? How has it changed you as a person, a student, a friend, a family member? Those are the questions at the core of our review. You made a decision and now we have one to make. Help us by not waffling or watering down your explanation.

Everyone makes mistakes. Some are worse than others and might be an issue if you are targeting top tier schools, but most won’t prevent you from attending college. If you would like help navigating a disciplinary issue or want help writing your disciplinary essay, contact us!

 

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Dear Therapist: I’m Worried the College-Admissions Process Is Rigged Against My Son

Repost! It is a bit long, but Lori Gottlieb’s message is so important for families who are in or approaching the college search and application process. I encourage both parents and students to take 10 minutes to read the entire piece, but if you don’t have time for the full read, here are the main takeaways: Parents, how you handle the application process sets the tone for how your child will respond to it. You have the potential to turn a situation that your child would otherwise handle just fine into one that’s not fine. The messages that you send have the potential to either prepare them for adulthood or hold them back much more than not being at an Ivy League school would.
 
Here is the full article:
 
Dear Therapist,  
 
My son is in the middle of the college application process. He has very good grades and very good SAT and ACT scores; he is an Eagle Scout and a captain of the cross-country team. He is also white, male, and upper-middle-class—and that is the problem. According to all of the statistics and reports, he should be accepted at Ivy League schools, but he has not been. He will eventually get into a “good” school, but it is my guess (based on what we are seeing with his peer group) that he will be overqualified for the school he ends up at. He is very frustrated and very upset. How do you explain to a bright, eager boy that the system is rigged against him? For example, his twin brother, who has similar grades and an almost identical resume, is going to the U.S. Naval Academy, and his application process, though difficult, was smooth and straightforward — Lisa, Mendham, NJ
 

Dear Lisa,

The college-admissions process has become so brutally intense in recent years that it can make anyone lose perspective, and I think that’s what’s happened here. Of course, you’re not the only parent who sees her hardworking and accomplished child do everything “right,” imagines him or her thriving at a particular school, and is frustrated when the child does not gain admission. But if you don’t step back and look at the bigger picture, you’ll be depriving your son of an education that will be far more valuable to him in the long run. So let’s back up.

From the moment kids are born, they take their cues from the adults around them about how to respond to experiences in the world. For instance, when a toddler stumbles in the sandbox, the first thing she does is look at her parent for a signal. If the parent calmly says, “Whoops, you fell down,” and then smiles reassuringly, the child will likely get the message that the fall was no big deal and get right back up. But if the adult looks alarmed, yells, “Oh, no! Are you okay?,” and rushes over to check for injuries, the child may, in turn, become alarmed: Wait, am I okay? I thought I was okay, but maybe I’m not! Later, if the child doesn’t get the lead in the school play—despite how talented this child may be—she’ll also take her cue about what this means from the adults around her. If her parents say, “That’s so unfair! Jane only got the part because the drama teacher is friends with her mom,” or “Jane’s parents are on the board,” the girl might think, Yeah, this is so unfair. Jane’s not nearly as talented as I am. The world is rigged. Why even try?
 
If, on the other hand, the parents say, “We know you really wanted the lead and we hear how disappointed you are. You worked so hard preparing for the audition. Maybe you’ll get the lead the next time around, but meanwhile, the part you did get will be fun, too,” their daughter may still be disappointed, but she’ll be learning about resilience. She’ll take in the message that sometimes we don’t get what we want, even when we’re qualified to have it. She’ll learn that sometimes we might be really good at something, but someone else is even better. She’ll learn that there’s not just one thing that can be enjoyable or fulfilling, but many things—like acting in a play she loves, even if she’s not the lead this time around. She’ll learn that the world is not an all-or-nothing place, where you either succeed or fail. She’ll learn that if she really wants something badly enough, she can try again another time and figure out what would increase her chances. She’ll learn that even if Jane got the role mostly because of her talent but partly because the teacher (consciously or not) favored her, there will come a time when she, too, will get something—an award, a job—not only because of her talent, but also because of, say, the boss’s strong relationship with the colleague who referred her, or the fact that they both grew up in the same town, and an equally qualified candidate will be rejected. 
 
The kid who learns these lessons early on will probably still be upset if, despite her stellar application, she doesn’t get admitted to her top-choice school. But she won’t walk through the world feeling as though there’s a conspiracy going on, nor will she walk onto campus the first day of freshman year believing that she won’t be challenged and that her peers are either similarly overqualified or simply beneath her. And if she does find that she’s not getting what she wants at her very good but not Ivy League school, she will know she can talk to an adviser to see what opportunities might be available that she’s not yet aware of, or even apply to transfer elsewhere. Either way, she won’t spend her senior year of high school anticipating how unfulfilling her college experience will be, thereby creating a very unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.
 
So how do you explain to your son that the system is rigged against him? You say, “Son, the world is an unfair place and the system is rigged against you.” And then you watch him grow into an angry, unfulfilled adult with a chip on his shoulder who will probably have grossly misguided ideas about women and people of color and his own value and worth and abilities. But if you’d like a better future for him, let me suggest the following. Start by getting more accurate information, such as the fact that it’s extremely challenging to get into an elite college, and that the vast majority of applicants to these colleges have very high test scores, along with a stunning array of extracurricular activities and prestigious awards or honors. Dig deeper than anecdotal information and you’ll discover that there isn’t a reliable statistic or report out there that says that an applicant with very good grades and very good SAT and ACT scores who is also an Eagle Scout and a captain of the cross-country team “should” be admitted to a particular Ivy League school—regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. Ask professionals in the admissions field, such as an experienced college-guidance counselor, whether a student with your son’s resume who happens to be a woman of color might still be rejected from the school of her choice. You may be surprised by the answer.
 
Having this information might help you separate the reality from the reaction you’re having, and this, in turn, will help you talk to your son in a more productive way about what is, for most families applying to top-tier schools, a grueling and anxiety-provoking process. Remember, he’s taking his cues from you, so if you can view this from a more balanced perspective, so will he. Instead of coming from a place of outrage on his behalf, approach him from a place of curiosity and ask, “How are you doing with this college-application process?” Then listen to what his frustration is about. Is he getting the message (from you? his school? his friends?) that the name of his college defines his worth or is a statement about his intelligence? Does he believe that going to an Ivy League college leads to a better job or a better life or some kind of happiness he won’t find at another very good school? 
 
Help to disabuse him of these faulty notions and explain to him that college is about the right fit, not the most prestigious name, and that no matter where he goes—including an Ivy League school—there will be students just like him, as well as students who are both more and less accomplished on paper, because colleges try to put together a group of outstanding people who will mesh well. Tell him that you have every confidence that he will choose, and be accepted into, a school where he meshes well and maybe even makes the friends he’ll have for the rest of his life.
 
In other words, how you handle the application process sets the tone for how your son will respond to it. It’s true that sometimes there isn’t enough to go around—there are only so many leads in the school production, so many spots at a given college, and so many openings for a job someone really wants. At the same time, parents have the potential to turn a situation that their kids would otherwise handle just fine into one that’s miserable. At that point, it’s the parent creating the child’s misery, not the situation. The messages parents send their kids have the potential to either prepare them for adulthood or hold them back much more than not being at an Ivy League school would ever do. You have a great opportunity right now to teach your son well.

Our Favorite Test Optional Schools

More and more schools are going test-optional—and we love that. More than 220 colleges have de-emphasized the ACT and SAT since 2005, and the list keeps growing. Even uber selective schools like the University of Chicago have dropped standardized testing as a requirement*. Why? As the recent Chronicle of Higher Education ‘Trends on the Horizon‘ report notes:

One reason the list is likely to keep growing: data, data, data. Colleges are using ever more sophisticated statistical analyses to better understand how their students perform. On many campuses, deep dives into enrollment data have helped admissions offices determine which pieces of information they collect from applicants actually help them predict a variety of student outcomes, such as first-year grades and progress toward a degree. Chicago found that ACT and SAT scores didn’t tell it much about who would succeed and who would struggle.

*Always a caveat!!! Although we wholeheartedly support the test-optional movement, we have reason to believe that not all test-optional policies are created equally. Many skeptics of test-optional policies see them as applicable only to certain student groups, for example, students who are disadvantaged in the admission proicess—not middle to upper-class students who have access to test prep and other resources but just don’t “test” well. We have heard through the grapevine that this is the case at quite a few schools. If this is true, it is just one more way that the college admissions process lacks transparency. We are working on finding data that reveals who is admitted without test scores at some of the schools in question (Chicago, Wake Forest, Bowdoin, Wesleyan) but it is not readily available.

Anyway, we want to shoutout a few of the test-optional schools that we have found to be genuinely test-optional, and where we have students who are thriving both inside and outside of the classroom. They are:

  • Pitzer College
  • Drew University
  • George Washington University
  • The University of Arizona
  • Whittier College
  • University of Delaware
  • New School

For a comprehensive list of top-tier schools that are test-optional, and to stay up to date on the test-optional movement, head to FairTest.org.

 

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