Reflections on the College Admission Scandal

We’ve had just 24 hours to absorb the major scandal that involved lying, cheating and bribery in the college admission world.  It’s bad on so many levels, but underneath the rubble, the immorality, the illegality, is the sad fact that the scandal rests upon people’s desperate and completely unfounded fear that if their kids don’t go to a well-known college, one that shows up high on some ranking list somewhere, their life will be forever doomed.

This reliance on rankings to determine which are the “good” colleges is so misplaced I don’t even know where to start.  Rankings are basically gossip.  They tell you nothing about how well your child will do on a particular college campus, what they’ll get from the experience, how well their education will prepare them for their future job.

Or how well they will feel like they “fit in” to the campus community.

I’ve been counseling students for nine years.  Over the course of that time, I’ve personally visited over 325 colleges.  You’ve heard the names of some of them, but you probably haven’t heard of many of them (unless you spend a lot of time on this page).  But just because you haven’t heard of a college doesn’t mean it’s not good, or that they won’t get a job or into a strong graduate program with a degree from a smaller or lesser-known college.  My favorite way to illustrate this is by showing this list of undergraduate institutions from which Harvard’s first year law students graduated.  You’ll recognize about half of them – but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that HARVARD LAW SCHOOL recognizes them – and their graduates.  You can also check out this list of where the CEOs of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies went to college – only one of those 10 is an Ivy, and you probably haven’t even heard of a few of these schools.  Bottom line:  a college you haven’t heard of (yet) could be an INCREDIBLE place for your teenager to spend some quality time learning about the world and how they can follow their passions.  

college admission scandal
Let’s work on reducing this.

Additionally, you may have heard about the crisis-level problem with anxiety on college campuses today.  Part of that is due to the unhealthy obsession with name-brand, highly ranked colleges – students simply feel they’ve failed if they don’t hit the college lottery (more on that in this great piece).  If families took more time to really explore their college options, instead of being stuck on those rankings, they might just land at a place where they fit in, love their classmates, love what they’re learning and feel at home.  THIS is what a real college counselor facilitates.  Here’s one of the better articles I saw today in response to this college admission scandal – the important part comes about halfway down, where it says “College is a feast.”

Over the course of nine years in this business, I’m proud to have built a team of highly ethical and dedicated counselors who have worked with hundreds of students and families, always focusing on finding the best college for each student.  We’re very clear with our clients: our job isn’t to “get you in,” it’s to “get you through” the process that many people find to be confusing and stressful. 

We approach it in two steps.  PHASE 1 is “College Search.” We spend time getting to know each student, helping them start to think about what they want in their college experience and what they have to offer a college community.  Then, based on our travels and knowledge of the 2,200 four-year colleges in the United States, we create a nice long list for them to research.  We teach them how to research a college, going beyond the names they already know.  PHASE 2 is “College Applications.” We sit next to them, literally and figuratively, as they fill out applications and write essays.  We make sure, above all else, that their lists are balanced, so that we KNOW good news is coming.  We make sure they love their “safe” and “target” schools.  We make sure that their moms and dads don’t have to nag them to get things done.  And we make sure things aren’t done at the very last moment.

I’ve been saying for years that there are 2 important questions to ask a college counselor before you hire one:

  • To which professional organizations do you belong?
  • And how many conferences and colleges have you been to in the past two years?

Every counselor on our team is a member of NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and our LA team are all members of the Western affiliate, WACAC.  All of our counselors are also members of either the Higher Education Consultants Association (whose president was quoted in this USA Today article in response to the college admission scandal) or the Independent Educational Consultants Association (whose response to the college admission scandal is here).

Here’s the 30-ish minute live stream I did yesterday on our Facebook page (which of course, we invite you to like). We also invite you to join our free, year-specific text messaging service by texting 2020parent, or 2021parent, or 2022parent (depending on when your child graduates from high school) to 877-562-4443.

While I can’t say I was happy when this college admission scandal broke on yesterday’s news, we hope the result will be that we spend more time focusing on helping students find the right match college, instead of being obsessed with the big names.

The photo in the header of this article is a compilation of e-mails I’ve received that make my stomach turn.  Anyone who promises you they know the “secret” to getting into a highly selective school is flat-out lying to you.  Don’t believe it.  Don’t let it stress you out.  And don’t let it make your child feel “less than.”  I hope more than anything else that this scandal helps all of us realize there are no secrets to learn, no magic 6-step process and no “side doors.” The only thing a college advisor or counselor should promise, and the only thing we promise, is that we will stand by you and your child every step of the way.

If you’d like some help as your child goes through this process, feel free to read about our services here, or to get in touch here.

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