Earlier this month, I was trying to figure out what day it was. Rather than look at the calendar, I simply looked at the College Admissions Facebook page on my computer screen. There was one story about the record low admit rates at Ivy League colleges, four stories about how most colleges admit a vast majority of their applicants, and two or three reminders that it’s all about what you do in college, not where you do it.
“So” I said to myself, “it must be April 10th.” And I was right.
There is something equally comforting and disturbing about the college admissions grieving cycle. It begins in late March, when we all bemoan it’s easier to get struck by lightning than to get admitted to a selective school. Even the recent admissions scandal, replete with movie stars and lots of cash, played right into the timing of the “ain’t it awful” phase.
Early April gives way to requests for help with aid packages and muffled cries for some kind of reform from the madness of the application process. Mid-April begins the search for schools willing to accept great kids who somehow ended up with “nowhere” to go, and late April finds us back in the trenches, asking about colleges for really bright juniors who want to study Hungarian and elephants.
This is our version of thoughts and prayers. Like legislators tackling school safety, we look at the misshapen blob college admissions has become long enough to be horrified, only to get swept away by the need to make the broken system work just one more time, if only for the benefit of next year’s hardworking seniors. Major changes are just too far out of reach, and minor changes make no palpable difference, so we sigh and carry on, hoping a thoughtful social media post or two will somehow turn the tide. Real change, it seems, is beyond our grasp.
It isn’t. Like anything else that’s out of shape, moving in a new direction requires a little bit of time, and a ton of vision. No one in this profession is short on vision; they’re stymied by how to bring that vision to life. Here are some starter ideas.
College Admission Personnel who want to open up college access have all kinds of small projects that, when regularly tended to, can take on lives of their own.
- Buy lunch for someone on your student success team, and get an overview of their work. What students are doing well once they’re on campus, and which ones aren’t? Is there anything your institution can learn from the success of Georgia State, understanding that student success is far more than a cut and copy endeavor? What does any of this mean about who you’re recruiting—and, more important, if they have no idea who’s succeeding and why, why not?
- If you have two counselor fly-in programs, cut it to one. Use the new-found money to hold a three-day College Counselor Workshop for any school counselor in your area with less than five years’ experience. As a rule, counselor graduate programs teach nothing meaningful about college counseling. You know the counselors who know their stuff, and you have a NACAC affiliate at your disposal. Bring them in, and let them train your local rookies.
- As long as you’re at it, have coffee with the director of your graduate counseling program, and ask them if you can have a three-hour class period to talk about college admission. Most counselor educators will have the humility to admit they’ve been out of the college admissions game too long, so they’ll give you the time. Bring along two of your favorite counselors, and the grad students will be begging for more. If you don’t know what you’d do with those three hours, I have a program that’s in the box and ready to present, and you can have it.
- Call a test-optional college that looks like yours and ask how it’s going. The argument that test optional is a ruse to raise average test scores means nothing to the bright kid heading to University of Chicago this fall who can’t even spell SAT. If colleges that look like yours have figured out test scores mean nothing in the application of a straight A student– and they have– maybe your school could open things up, too.
High School Counselors have eight bajillion kids on their caseloads and duties that have nothing to do with counseling. That said, find a way to get to work twenty minutes early once a week, and pick one of these projects to work on:
- Shoot an email to the professional development chair of your NACAC affiliate and volunteer to be a mentor. Less than thirty graduate programs in the country devote a course to college counseling, and it’s showing. What you know about this profession will be an oasis to a new counselor, and most of the mentoring can occur through email and phone calls.
- Look at your messaging about college options. Do you tell students and parents about test optional colleges, community colleges, or state colleges with amazing residential programs? Use this time to bring yourself up to speed on the paths your students aren’t taking, then put together a plan for spreading the word to parents and students.
- When’s the last time you talked college with your middle school and elementary mental health partners? Opening up postsecondary options is as much a matter of changing the mindset of parents as it is presenting options to students—and if that’s starting in ninth grade, forget it. Ask your NACAC affiliate for grant opportunities to strengthen your K-8 postsecondary curriculum, and build the partnerships needed to make it work.
No one in this business was surprised last month to discover the wealthy have an advantage applying to college. What may come as a surprise is how much we can change that dynamic by throwing our hearts behind that change with twenty minutes a week, giving tangible shape to our thoughts, prayers, and deepest hopes for this profession.