Shedding daylight on college admissions surveillance | Tech US News


Every fall in most of the United States, we reset the clocks and regain an hour of sunlight in the morning. Unless we decide to move to parts of Arizona, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, or Hawaii (all seemingly attractive options as the mercury dips here in the Northeast), we must accept the inevitability of the time change. Ultimately, it’s up to us how we respond to it. We can mourn the darker evenings and disrupted sleep schedules, or we can celebrate the morning sun and the opportunity to recalibrate stuck patterns.

Our collective “comeback” always comes at a moment in the college admissions cycle when students and counselors are scrambling to submit early applications. This confluence of rituals is an annual reminder of what we can and cannot control. Allow me to offer some thoughts on what is (and is not) in our power.

For students

Believe it or not, you have more freedom of action in this experience than you think. Read this blog post by Rick Clark, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech. You will discover that you are in control of 75% of the process. For example, decide why, where, when and how you will apply. In your application, you tell a story that best represents you, your strengths, interests and hopes. You choose who you will listen to, who you will direct and consult with about your search and use. Also determine the mindset with which you approach the experience. If you look at it as a zero-sum game or something you “earn,” you may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you keep an open mind and realize that there are any number of schools that could be a perfect match, you’ll likely feel more fulfilled when the decisions come.

But you don’t control how colleges manage the application process, whether you’re accepted or not, or how much it will cost. You may not have a say in the restrictions or conditions your parents have placed on where you can apply or attend. You have little influence over how your friends, classmates, or neighbors view the colleges you apply to or how they approach admissions.

It’s up to you to let your college application experience drag you down or lift you up. As a high school counselor, every year I witness a new group of students searching for schools, visiting with admissions officers, interviewing, writing essays, and filling out applications. Some do so under a cloud of anxiety and a self-fulfilling prophecy that they will be overwhelmed. Others approach it with a sense of purpose and the expectation that there will be details to attend to, but won’t surrender to them. You control that, so make that part your 75%.

For parents

I used to think I had more control over my children than I actually did. Then they hit their teenage years and I realized they are more autonomous and independent than I often give them credit for. If we’ve done our job right, this relinquishment of control is a good thing. Even if not, their independence is inevitable.

When it comes to college admissions, parents have no say in the outcome (just ask anyone involved in the Varsity Blues scandal how that ends). Although we think our children are special, there are millions of other parents who think the same. No matter how hard we try to make the admissions decision in their favor, the truth is that uncertainty rules the day and any communication they receive from the college is beyond our control. We can choose the messages—both obvious and more subtle—that we send our children about what we value and how we feel about the choices they make.

We cannot control the behavior, grades, wants and needs of our students. We can control how we respond to all these factors and how we empower them to make their own decisions. We can also choose to proactively communicate our expectations, limitations and conditions. Honest conversations early in the college search about finances and affordability avoid difficult conversations later. We cannot dictate how our children will respond to our expectations, but we can certainly let them know. Ultimately, we control how involved we are in their journey and how much room we allow them to take risks, fail and grow.

For consultants

Undoubtedly, the 10th month of the year is a particularly busy time for high school counselors – some have rather unkindly dubbed it “sucktober.” I don’t buy into that narrative because the truth is that I chose this profession – a profession that brings me a lot of joy – and I know it will be hard and sometimes frustrating. I can’t control being caught between the rock of an underdeveloped teenage brain and the hard-set reality that higher education is a business and often less student-centered. If it were, college admissions would be more fair, simple, and predictable. It’s not, nor can I control it.

We as educators can continue to speak truth to power about the futility of our current standardized testing system, lack of access to counseling, issues of affordability and debt, and the many other weaknesses of admissions. We can decry the ever-earlier deadline for university applications and how it negatively affects education, students and equity. What we cannot control is the volume of applications that colleges and universities attempt to manage and the policies they set in response. If I had more control, I would fix a lot about this experience. Accepting that, I will change with time, be grateful for more morning sun and continue to shine where I can.


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