Many students, particularly strong ones, find themselves finished or close to finished all of their high school graduation requirements by the end of junior (11th grade) year. As a result high schools often offer seniors (12th grade students) in high school the option of attending school part time as long as graduation requirements are met. Don’t be seduced by this options that may bring short term pleasure but long term challenges.
The ups and downs of the quarantine gave college admissions officers and school counselors a taste of application life to come, as the birth rate for high school graduates continues to slide, and the need to develop new approaches to recruit students increases. As the profession continues to try and improve college access, and knowing that small differences can make a big difference, here are some considerations for both sides of the desk to ponder this summer over a well-deserved glass of lemonade:
Colleges—move your deadline dates. November 1 (early applications), January 1 (regular applications), and May 1 (many deposits) are all big dates in the college application world—and they all fell on a Sunday or a holiday this year. I don’t understand this, since the admissions offices weren’t open, and the vast majority of high school seniors had no access to counselors or other application helpers the day of and before the deadlines.
This needs to change. Yes, students need to be responsible, and should learn to plan ahead—but perhaps that lesson is better applied to deadlines for things they’ve done before (like papers), not with things they are doing for the first time (like applying to college). The first Tuesday in November, the second Tuesday in January, and the first Tuesday in May would solve this problem nicely, increasing the quality and quantity of applications to boot. Georgia Tech made the move, and they get kaboodles of applications. It’s an easy, but important, change.
High Schools—stop working holidays. Moving the January 1 deadline to a date when high schools are in session is also overdue for school counselors, who have taken a serious shellacking this year with all the student mental health issues arising from COVID. School counselors have always been overworked, but never able to use the December holidays to recover, since they were expected to help their students make January 1 college deadlines.
It’s time to take a stand. Assuming the colleges move their deadlines, counselors need to learn to let go. Send a note to all senior families early in November, letting them know your vacation is—well, a vacation. If you really can’t let go of your students for that long—or if the colleges unwisely cling to January 1– set two days of vacation for online office hours, and take a breath all the other days. You have mastered online office hours this year. Let them be your friend.
Colleges—keep innovating. One (and perhaps the only) upside of the quarantine was the ability of college admissions offices to adapt major chunks of their traditional approach to recruitment. Test optional, drive-thru tours, and online high school visits suggested it might be OK for everyone to get their hopes up, that some real college admissions reform was in the air.
In a post-vaccine world, we see more signs of returning to “normal” than creating new normal. Reinventing the entire admissions process is no easy feat, to be sure, but how hard might it be for admissions offices to spend half a day this summer doing “What ifs” to one part of the application process? Do that for five years, and you have a new admissions paradigm, and a more accessible one—the thing you say you keep wanting.
High schools— mental health and college access aren’t either/or. I will legitimately blow my top if I read one more post from a high school counselor insisting that the increase in COVID-related mental health needs makes it impossible to do any effective college counseling.
School counseling as a profession has long been showing a mental health bias at the expense of quality college counseling, and this year just seems to have widened the gap. Counselor training programs plant the seeds of this bias— training programs devote about 7 classes to mental health training, and none to college counseling—and all of this must stop, if only because the dichotomy is a false one.
Discouraged, depressed high school students light up like a hilltop church on Christmas Eve when I tell them college gives them a fresh start to life and learning, proof enough that college counseling affects mental health. That, plus the American School Counselor Association says college counseling is part of the job. Counselors truly are overworked, so they can’t do everything they want in any part of counseling. That said, college can still be part of a key to a better self. More counselors need to see that, and act on it.
Everyone—stop beating up on the Ivies. The Ivies and their equally tough-to-get-into institutions largely decided to go test optional this year. For some reason, this gave a lot of students with B averages the hope that they too could pahk the cah in the yahd, now that they didn’t have to reveal their test scores.
So—more students applied to the Ivies this year than last year. The Ivies didn’t admit more students this year than last year. That means their admit rate had to go down, and more students were denied.
That isn’t news—it’s math. And if you want to blame the Ivies for encouraging students to apply who didn’t really stand a chance of getting in, you’re going to need to make a thousand more jackets for that club. If you think the Ivies take too few Pell-eligible students, say that. If you think they admit too many legacies, stay that. But don’t beat them up for proving the laws of basic ratios. Any other college in their shoes would have to do the same thing. (Besides, it’s the national media who has left our society with the impression that there are only 25 colleges in America.)
Everyone—about Kiddos. It’s no secret that college is largely a time of youth, especially with the expansion of adolescence into the early twenties and beyond. But college is also a time to help young people embrace the opportunities of adulthood, skills and attitudes that sometimes require setting the desires of self to one side.
This goal would be more easily achieved if we saw students—and if they saw themselves– as capable of embracing a larger sense of self by referring to them as students, not Kiddos. They don’t need to grow up in a hurry or, with the right kind of help, succumb to the media images of college choice as a high stakes pressure cooker. But they also need something more than just a pat on the head and a verbal affirmation that’s the equivalent of a lollipop. Let’s try calling them students.
There were only eight in the box, but Billy didn’t see it that way. To him there wasn’t anything he couldn’t draw. Especially anything red. Shoes. Birds. Strawberries. Even dogs. Look at it the right way, and anything could be red.
Mrs. Struthers understood that, and loved to see Billy in class every day. Together, they discovered all kinds of things that turned out to be red. As the year went on, Mrs. Struthers showed Billy how many other things were a mix of red and one of the other colors in his box of crayons. By May, Billy was working with just green, and just yellow, and just about every other color. But once kindergarten was over, it was the red crayon that had been worn down to a stub.
Coloring somehow became both less important and more important as school went on. By second grade, the box had grown from eight to twenty-four, but there was less time to color in school. Billy had rearranged the box to keep his favorite eight colors together, in the front row.
During one of those rare times drawing was allowed, Billy was relishing the chance to draw another cardinal, when Mr. Tyler walked by his desk.
“Cardinals aren’t really red, you know” he said.
Billy kept drawing, and looked up. “What do you mean?”
“They’re actually their own color. Cardinal red. You have that in your box. It’s in the top row of colors.”
Mr. Tyler walked away. Billy kept drawing with red.
The last time Billy saw a box of crayons in school was fourth grade, when the box had grown to 64. Billy had no idea what to do with a crayon named Salmon—wasn’t that a fish?—and the two named Yellow Orange and Orange Yellow looked exactly the same. Why take up space with two crayons of the same color? Billy brought his box of eight crayons from home. The red was getting very small.
There wasn’t time for coloring again until eighth grade, when Billy took an art class in middle school. The crayons had been replaced with pastels that were thicker, and moved across the paper differently than crayons. Suddenly, Billy’s crisply drawn cardinals were fuzzy, and smeared, and looked a little more like smushed raspberries. Billy waited until the end of class to ask his teacher about this, and how could he draw crisp cardinals with pastels.
The teacher frowned. “We didn’t draw cardinals today” she said, “we were drawing mosaics. Did you draw mosaics?”
Billy put his head down. After school, he took his crayons home, and put them in the back of a desk drawer.
The counselor opened up the file on his lap and smiled. “The career tests suggest you have an exceptional talent for art. Have you considered a career in graphic arts?”
The student across from him stared at his blank phone screen.
“Billy, did you hear me?”
“Yeah” Billy said, not looking up.
“Your records say you haven’t taken an art course since eighth grade. There’s room for one in your schedule next year as a senior. What do you say?”
Billy’s eyes were frozen on the ground.
“Mrs. Jefferson is a great art teacher. She taught me how to cross hatch. Have you ever tried that?”
The counselor pulled out a blank piece of paper, and opened the top drawer of his desk. It was filled with crayons.
The squeak of the drawer made Billy look up. “They’re all green” he said.
“Yeah” the counselor chuckled, “I had this thing for green crayons when I was a kid, and it’s stuck with me all these years. I had a couple of teachers try and talk me out of it, but when you love something, you just stick with it, you know?”
Billy looked away for a minute, then pulled out what looked like a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
“Uh, Billy—” the counselor said.
Billy flipped open the top of the box, revealing a dozen crayons of different heights. All red.
“Do they teach art in college?”
Get the admissions insight you want – any weeknight! After a multi-year hiatus, College Counseling Tonight is back. If you are a student (or a parent of a student) who wants to proactively and wisely tackle every challenge high school throws your way and reach your college admissions potential, the best advice I can give you is to join me for College Counseling Tonight, which is the perfect fit for students or parents in search of speedy college admissions coaching.
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This isn’t the week to be a high school student. Statewide assessment is going on across the country, and thanks to social distancing policies, at least some students are taking the ACT on gym bleachers, six feet apart, straddling a wooden plank across their legs and using it as a desk. Among other things, the results of this ACT will be used in some states to decide which students get merit scholarship money.
Students in Michigan are about a month away from likely doing the same thing. State officials reached out to the US Department of Education and asked for a waiver from the required testing in this year of COVID mayhem. Apparently the request got there when Betsy Devos was still in charge, because it was denied.
School counselors really thought we had won the day when over 1350 colleges decided to continue their test-optional admission policies for this year’s juniors—in fact, many colleges have extended this policy for an additional two years. This kind of extension takes a little bit of courage, since it was made before colleges finished the current admissions cycle. Either they’re hoping for the best, or they’re seeing what so many colleges have long known—testing doesn’t mean all that much, and once you no longer have it,
In our delirium, it seems we forgot to talk to government officials, who are asking for test results that are sure to disappoint. Early test results in the last year show student achievement is down. That may be for all kinds of reasons, but when you make a student take the ACT on their lap, it’s pretty likely that’s not going to show their best effort—so we can expect to see more of the same.
School counselors aren’t a greedy bunch by nature, but there are more than a few that look at the adoption of test optional policies and sigh. It was just a year ago when more than a few college admissions wonks—deans and directors included—were truly excited at the prospect of creating a brand new admissions system that was cleaner, fairer, and easier. Ample articles are out there showing how wealth skews every single tool used in the current system, from grades to test scores to essays to letters of recommendation to extra curriculars. When the COVID quarantine came along, veteran admission watchers thought “At last! Here’s the big thing that’s going to require us to rethink the whole process.”
That didn’t exactly happen. Since many of the changes affecting admissions also affected campus life and methods of instruction, college administrators were too concerned with keeping beds full and classrooms open to consider changing most admissions policies. Figuring out how to build a class without test scores proved to be challenging enough; changing anything else was perceived to be a dice roll no one could take right now, unless they were willing to risk the college’s entire future on it.
There’s still a lot to do to bring in this fall’s class, but it isn’t too early for colleges to hunker down now and think about The Big Move they didn’t have time for this year. Understanding that most admission changes are glacial, admission offices can use the lessons they learned from the quick change to test optional and build on them with a more strategic approach for other changes. This could lead to a new model of admission for this year’s high school sophomores. It’s already clear most colleges that went test-optional aren’t going to go back. Top that decision off with some strategic planning, and careful study of some schools who did make huge strides this year (I’m looking at you, UCLA), and there’s still a chance to either even the playing field of admission, or openly admit it isn’t even, and develop the protocols needed to create the exceptions that will make it more fair.
Meanwhile, if someone could just tell government policy makers why they went test optional, and why it makes sense for states to do so as well? They might as well make the students complete the tests with quill pens.
It isn’t just the seniors who missed this year’s scholastic rites of passage. Students may be the stars of this show, but there’s something about weak lemonade, folding chairs, and speeches about pursuing your passion faculty and administrators find just as assuring as the honored students. It’s the closest we get to winding down a year and taking a breath before taking up the task of deciding how the coming year could be smoother, better, or more effective. And if ever there was a year when that breath was needed, it was this year.
We didn’t get it. Instead, pundits and parents, who had spent the spring seeing first-hand what educators really do, were banging on academia’s gates, asking about the resumption of “school as usual” in the fall with a keen level of expectation. They may have been saying “Will schools reopen?”, but they meant “Schools had better reopen.” Unaccustomed to making such deep decisions on the fly—and, frankly, a little exhausted from having made two months’ of such decisions on the fly—K-12s and higher ed begged off. Let’s see what the numbers look like, they said, and we’ll have an answer soon.
Wow, did we blow it. One of the best ways to convey confidence in leadership is for leaders to make decisions with some sense of anticipation and planning. Given all the seemingly spontaneous decisions this spring required, how much better off would we be in the eyes of the public if we had used April and May to say what really needed to be said in three key areas:
“We’re going to review our entire application process.” School counselors are exhausted by June, but word that hundreds—that’s right, hundreds—of colleges were not requiring SAT or ACT scores for this year’s juniors created a groundswell of euphoria unknown to the summer months. The arguments for ridding college admissions of these tests are better articulated elsewhere (like here). Now that quarantine had added one more point to the argument—that the students just can’t take them—colleges succumbed to the reality in hordes, leaving counselors hopeful that, as long as they were checking under the hood of their admissions policies, admissions folks would toss out some other policies that deny college access to many students who need it most.
That bigger review doesn’t seem to be appearing. In his typical fashion, Lawrence U dean Ken Anselment was the first to suggest in a Tweet that colleges should use this opportunity to clean up the entire admissions process, instead of taking an approach centered on the question, “So, how do we make admissions decisions without test scores?” If anyone can make major revisions to their application in two months, it’s Ken and the Lawrence crew. It would have been better if, as a profession, all colleges had committed to this in April, creating more time and space to ask the bigger, better questions.
“We’re going online, and it’s going to be great.” Colleges also tried to buy some time this spring when they were asked how instruction was going to occur. As a group, they intuitively demurred, sure that any answer involving pure online courses would turn off students looking for a “full college experience,” sending them into the arms of community colleges, and leading many small private liberal arts four-years with weak decades-long financial struggles to close.
These same considerations are evident in the early announcements some colleges have made about Fall classes. Hoping that reduced sizes of in-person classes and cancelled Fall breaks will contain the health risks, these colleges are ignoring the realities of some of their own football teams, where summer scrimmages are leaving up to twenty-five percent of the team COVID active, and at least one re-opened bar in a college town, where a quarter of all patrons are now on self-quarantine (and this is before students show up). It’s clear the best health option for all is to stay completely online—but how do you sell that to a student who just had a slew of online classes at either college or high school that, by and large, were less than they could have been?
Enter the professors. It’s easy to see how parents and students don’t want to pay for weak online learning. On the other hand, professors and high school teachers had about a week this spring to turn their classes into an online version of its face-to-face self, a task most colleges give professors an entire semester (and time off) to do. Now that the summer is here, college instructors can give their courses the firepower they need to be more vital, more individualized, and more like the face-to-face thing.
If colleges connected the professors to families who rightfully see online learning as dubious, the profs could bring their websites along and show how these courses are more robust than their springtime counterparts. Smaller colleges have long tried to get faculty involved in discussions with students, because good profs create an excitement about learning that closes the enrollment deal. The same could have applied to online learning, if we had started sooner. Now, we’re forced to play catch up again.
“We want your kids to be healthy.” The teachers at a local kindergarten decided they wanted to run a quarantine version of kindergarten graduation. They made a giant rainbow arch, a few lawn signs, and went from house to house of every one of their students. They’d set up the display, have their student walk through the arch, and created a composite video of the whole event.
A success? Not really. The edited video didn’t show what really happened: that the excited students broke every safe-distancing rule in the book when their teacher showed up. Kindergartners love their teachers (thank goodness), and two months apart led to a euphoria that was shown by hugging everything in sight, a scene that’s reassuring to everyone but the Health Department.
In a nutshell, that’s why reopening K-12 schools to any kind of face-to-face learning is a bad idea. Wal Mart can’t even get “adult” customers to wear a mask; what chance does a teacher have making a dozen five year-olds practice safe distancing?
A joint effort by state and federal officials in April, devoting dollars and expertise to developing nationwide broadband access and best practices in K-12 online learning, was the best answer to teaching students. It also would have given time for working parents to develop resources for child care. Instead, K-12 is left with a continuation of the catch-as-catch-can policies that allowed them to limp to June in one piece, thinking that a couple of days in the classroom each week will placate parents. It might, until school closes again for quarantine—and if you think of the last birthday party you attended for a seven-year old, you’ll understand why that’s a certainty.
There are many years in the college counseling world that come and go without a lot of fanfare, but this certainly wasn’t one of them. Thanks to America’s ever-growing fascination with the college application process, counseling received more than its share of the limelight in 2019. Here are the highlights:
The Scandal Known as Varsity Blues Leave it to a small group of parents with way more dollars than sense, and a con man feigning to be an independent college counselor, to create even more angst over selective college selection than ever before. Since this story involved Hollywood, money, and some of the three schools the New York Times considers representative of the world of college admissions, way too much time and energy was devoted to understanding what this kerfuffle meant to college admissions as a whole. The average high school senior takes the SAT once and goes to college within 150 miles of home. Varsity Blues meant nothing to them. The same should have been true for the rest of us; instead, this issue is now running neck and neck with Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich for the year’s Story That Wasn’t Award.
Change to NACAC Ethics Code It made fewer headlines, but the Justice Department’s investigation into NACAC’s Code of Ethics could prove to have far more implications to the college plans of seniors than Varsity Blues could hope to. With colleges now allowed to offer incentives for students to apply early, and with colleges able to continue to pursue students who have committed to another college, the May 1 deposit date is still in effect, but may prove to have significantly less effect.
College Testing and the University of California The value of the SAT and ACT popped up in the headlines all year, as even more colleges decided test scores no longer had to be part of their application process. At year’s end, the test optional movement got a big media splash, as the University of California announced it was reviewing its testing policy. Combined with a lawsuit filed against the UCs claiming the tests are discriminatory, it’s clear that business as usual in the college application process is on its way out. Will more changes ensue?
The Harvard Case and Race Affirmative action advocates celebrated a legal victory this fall when a court ruled Harvard’s admissions procedures do, and may, use race as a factor in reviewing college applications. The case drew national attention in part because it was initiated by a group claiming Harvard didn’t admit enough students of Asian descent. It’s likely to stay in the headlines when the decision is ultimately appealed to the US Supreme Court, a group that, as it currently stands, has been known to be highly skeptical of race-based programs—meaning this year’s lower court victory could be pyrrhic at best.
Improved Research on College Counseling Academic research has never gotten its due in the world of school counseling, and that’s certainly true in the more specific field of college counseling. That trend may be changing, as a report from Harvard lays the groundwork for a more data-based approach to measure the difference counselors make in their work. The findings include an indication that counselors tend to be more effective in college counseling if the counselor was raised in the same area where they work, and, as a rule, are more helpful providing information to the student about the college the counselor attended. The report suggests this may be due to undertraining in college admissions as part of counselor education programs– to which most of the counseling world replied, no kidding. Look for more to come here.
Billions More for More Counselors, But Who Cares It’s hard to remember the need for more counselors was one of the favorite topics of the media just two years ago. A sign of American’s true indifference—or short attention span—rests with a congressional bill that provides up to $5 billion for new school counselor positions, a bill that is currently languishing in committee. Is this bill a victim of an absence of school shootings, impeachment, or both? Given what it can do, is there really any reason this bill can’t be a focus of action in 2020? That’s really up to us.
Many high schools don’t provide proactive college counseling to students until the end of eleventh grade. That’s not going to work for you!
Don’t wait until your school gets around to it. Find out when to assertively approach your college counselor by watching this Thorwback Thursday (TBT) classic.
There are a lot of people out there purporting to be qualified college admissions consultants. Here are two more extremely important warning signs that someone selling herself (or himself) as a quality college admissions consultant is likely anything but!
There are a lot of people out there purporting to be qualified college admissions consultants. Here are some of the initial warning signs that someone selling herself (or himself) as a quality college admissions consultant is likely anything but!