The college entrance gantlet
With regard to college entrance, many psychologists posit that “advantaged” kids are less well off today than they were 25 years ago. The pressures of going to just the right college have resulted in kids of high school age falling into the trap of compulsively believing they must “do whatever it takes” to get into the perfect college.
Twenty-five years ago we were lucky to find one or two books about the college admission process. Today there are entire sections in bookstores devoted to the subject. Not only that, but the process has taken on a life of its own, and it’s not unusual to see articles on the front pages of major newspapers (The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc.,) dealing with the subject.
The bombardment of information is so abundant that it’s almost as if Madison Avenue had taken control of the process. There now exists in the country an entire subculture that deals exclusively with college admissions. Most high school age kids are too young to grasp that they have been placed on the edge of a spinning vortex that ineluctably draws them deeper with each passing high school year. That’s unfortunate because high school students usually don’t give college “serious” thought until their junior or senior years.
By senior year it’s already too late to do much about a GPA because by the time the student receives his or her senior grades, his or her college applications have already been submitted and reviewed.
Parents of “advantaged” children seem to think that by having their son or daughter spend their junior or senior summer studying European history in Paris or working with Guatemalan refugees will look great on a resume. But they fail to realize that by then, most of what matters about being accepted into a specific college, i.e. what colleges are looking for, has already occurred.
Colleges look at a student’s academic and extracurricular record from freshman year forward, and like it or not, those B’s and C’s and god forbid, those D’s that the youngster received in his or her early years do matter!
Colleges, especially the elite ones want students who have maintained solid grade point averages from freshman year forward, who have scored well on their college boards and who have demonstrated a long-term, in-depth commitment, interest and talent in extracurricular activities.
In light of what colleges are looking for, perhaps the best thing parents can do for their progeny is to listen and learn what truly interests their child, then nurture those interests, maintain a record of his or her accomplishments and provide the best motivation possible in order that their child work up to his or her potential from day one of high school. Not an easy task, but I didn’t make up the rules.
And speaking of rules, there are no “rules” per se for successful admission into any college or university. College admissions counselors will freely admit that many of the determinants of whether or not a student is accepted into a particular school are beyond his or her control.
Many colleges have “rating” systems but won’t publicly disclose what they are; and who is or is not admitted is sometimes as much a factor of race, ethnicity or geographic origin as the student’s GPA and SAT scores.
A friend of mine’s daughter plans on taking five AP courses this coming year; she also participates in a number of extracurricular activities, will captain the tennis team and engages in community volunteer work. Somewhere within that schedule she’s also supposed to find time to be a part of her church, develop her social skills, spend time with her family, enjoy her friends, and of course attend a dance or two.
Her schedule may be an example of why many young people today experience anxiety, worry and panic attacks when they should be experiencing a balanced and happy high school career. So where does a student find equilibrium?
Too many parents live vicariously through their children and view the college admission process not only as a judgment of their child, but of themselves, as well. They must disabuse themselves of that notion because it’s counter productive and exceedingly unhealthy for the student.
In this age of changing and ambiguous rules of college admission, perhaps the best advice is for parents and the high school student to understand that admittance to a specific college is not a guarantee of a successful and prosperous future. It follows then, that rather than attempting to gain admission to the most prestigious of universities, parents and students would be well advised to focus their energies on finding a college that fits the personality and talents of the student.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily.