When It Comes to College Admissions, There’s Only One Guarantee
by Erik R. Slagle
I was halfway through a column on the Writing and Language section of the SAT, and English section of the ACT, mapping out some of the more common types of errors students make when correcting grammar. Later this spring, I’ll finish it – but I was interrupted by the news March 12th that two Hollywood actors headlined a group of dozens arrested in a college admissions scandal that exposed the uglier side of higher education. That’s the ability of this country’s most well-off to buy their children’s way into the most competitive colleges, sometimes regardless of merit.
What’s the saying? Shocked, but not surprised? I’ve worked with hundreds of students and families over the last 18 years, and have never once been asked to do anything even remotely unscrupulous. But I know it can happen. Maybe what’s really shocking about this story is the flagrancy with which the process unfolded. Fake athletic profiles, Photo-shopped action shots, proctors being bribed to change SAT answers. I even heard of one offender who paid someone else to take the ACT for her son, then self-proctored a fake test for him at home and told him she’d received special accommodation from the ACT administrators – and that this was his “real” test – in the hope of shielding him from what was happening behind the scenes, allegedly on his behalf.
There were two parts of the story that really gnawed at me. One, that the admissions advisor in question “guaranteed” applicants admission into their target schools, and two, that the students were put in impossible situations by parents who, let’s be honest, thought they were doing the best they could for their kids.
As parents, that’s what we all want. Of course we’re not all stooping to illegal activities to make that happen. But we’d do almost anything to make our kids happy – and that word, “happy,” is so important in this context. What kind of pressure are we putting our kids under by hammering on this idea of the “perfect” school? Aren’t they better served by finding a place where they feel at home, whether that’s a 4-year college, a 2-year school, or a trade school? Won’t they be happiest knowing they worked hard to get where they get, even with a little short-term disappointment if their first-choice school doesn’t work out?
Which brings me back to this idea that the counselor under arrest guaranteed admission. Make no mistake, if a college counselor is “guaranteeing” they can get someone into a particular college, it’s time to start looking for the door. That’s within reason, of course – if you’re a 3.5 student with a high test score, then sure, it’s perfectly logical to assume you’ll get into the school where test scores are optional and the stated GPA for admission is 2.5. But why the pressure to “guarantee” a student will get into an Ivy League college, or any other top-tier school? Even if they could get in, would they be happy there? Would they succeed?
Every year I hear from more and more students who are thrilled with the college they’re attending after we’ve worked together – even if it wasn’t their first choice. “It turned out to be such a good fit.” “He can’t imagine himself anywhere else.” “He’s thriving in college.” And I think that’s the one thing that can be guaranteed in this whole process: every student ends up exactly where they need to be, whether immediately after high school, as a transfer student, or as a grad student. That with hard work, commitment, and drive, they’re going to succeed in life no matter what college seal is on their degree.
Take that approach, and I guarantee the college application process will be smoother, more pleasant, and – dare I say – fun!