Just Say “NO” to College Negativity!

Remember the Nixon-era “Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?”  Well, they’re back – but this time they are not just the media – they are your friends, relatives, neighbors and people you work with.  And they love to “natter negatively” about college!

We believe that all of the chatter surrounding college admissions does nothing but ratchet up the stress level for both parents and students.  We see no need for it!  In fact, we see our job as helping students and parents REDUCE the stress throughout this process by making it more organized, methodical and predictable, whenever possible.

So here’s a quick guide to help you brush off some of the negativity you might hear:

  1. “No one can get into Ivy League schools,” or “If you haven’t found a cure for cancer, on top of straight As in 22 AP classes, 4 years of 2 varsity sports, concert-level piano playing and starting your own international non-profit, you can’t get into a top-tier school.”  It’s definitely difficult to get into the eight colleges in the Ivy League (which is a sports league, by the way), as well as other top-ranked, nationally-known universities.  It’s just a numbers game, really – there are only 19,000 seats in the entire freshman class of all eight Ivy League schools combined – and there are 35,000 high schools in the U.S. About a million and a half students apply to college each year!  So yes, it’s hard to get into those particular schools, but that doesn’t mean students can’t get into MANY other colleges that are a good fit for them academically and socially.  And a good fit for you financially!  In fact – here’s a post from an MIT admissions officer that should dispel the myth that your student MUST do ALL of those things listed above to be admitted!  [And the Ivy League is not impossible, by the way – Magellan has two clients starting at Ivy League schools in the fall of 2015, and as of this fall we will have students in eight of the top 20 ranked colleges.]
  1. “If it’s not a top-tier school, you won’t get a quality education,” or “If you don’t attend a top-tier school, you won’t be successful in life.”  If the world were only filled with jobs for Harvard alumni, we would all be unemployed!!  Well, at least 99.6% of us would be.  And in fact, as you can see in this article, only 7 CEOs from the Fortune 50 companies attended Ivy League schools, and only a handful more attended “name” colleges.  I would venture to say that you probably haven’t heard of the majority of the schools on this list – and look how successful these people have become!  Here’s another list filled with colleges you’ve never heard of – this is the list of undergraduate schools from which Harvard’s first year law class graduated in 2014.  Attending a top-tier undergraduate college/university isn’t the only launchpad for a satisfying career and a happy life.
  1. “You should definitely attend the highest ranked/best-known school into which you are admitted.”  While this doesn’t sound negative, it fails to take into account the reality that each student is unique, and has different needs with regard to their desired learning environment. Some students need cut-throat competition to thrive.  But some who are used to being the top student – sometimes without much effort – might find themselves frustrated if they fail to rise to the top at a highly competitive, pressure-cooker school, making their college experience stressful and unenjoyable.  If you have 20 minutes, watch New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell make this argument brilliantly – with supporting evidence – and if you have time, read his most recent book, David and Goliath, for more details on his thesis.  You might find yourself shaking your head in agreement after you read Chapter 3.
  1. “You have to send all of your SAT/ACT scores to every college,” or “Colleges look down upon students who take the SAT/ACT more than three times.”  Nope!  First of all, MOST colleges allow students to select which scores to send them, and which scores NOT to send.  It’s called “Score Choice.”  There are very few colleges which require students to send all scores from all tests ever taken.  MANY colleges do what’s called “super-score,” which means they will give the applicant credit for the highest Critical Reading, Math and Writing score they received on the SAT, even if those high section scores didn’t happen on the same day.  [A limited number of colleges super-score the ACT – here’s a good starting point on that list.]  So here’s the thing – there are three sections to the SAT [for now; the Writing section will become optional starting in March, 2016 and some colleges will require it].  If you take the SAT four times, you can only get one high score per section, which means the max number of SAT scores you could send to MOST colleges is three – even if you took it four times.  They’ll never know how many times you actually took it!  And for colleges that DO require students to send all scores, you really should not freak out about this.  You should rest assured that colleges will not penalize you for not being perfect the first time.  In fact, they are likely to respect the fact that you took the test again and improved!  And if all of this standardized test yammering freaks you out, guess what?  Over 800 colleges – that’s more than a third of the 2,200 four-year colleges in the United States – are test-optional!  That means that they don’t require you to send test scores AT ALL.  Find that list here [You can re-sort this list by state if you click on “state” at the top of the right-hand column.]
  1. “In-state college will definitely be cheaper,” or “College is ridiculously expensive!”  Neither of these statements has to be true!  There are so many ways to keep the cost of college down. The best way to start is to not get hung up on the importance of name, rank and reputation.  First, Ivy League schools don’t give merit aid, so you can have a super-top school (if you get in) and you can have a not-horribly-expensive school, but in general, if you are anywhere near (or above) middle-income, you can’t have both. [Re-read #2 if you need to be reassured that you can get a great education at a non-top-ranked school.]  For California residents, the UCs will cost about $32,000 per year, and the Cal States about $26,000 per year, including tuition, room, board, books, travel, etc.  And while the “sticker price” of some out of state private colleges may start out seemingly high, if you apply to the right list of schools, you will realize that many out-of-state private universities LOVE California students and will incentivize them – sometimes based on grades and test scores – to enroll by giving them generous scholarships.  Some out-of-state public universities are also willing to offer nice scholarships to California students, bringing the cost down to less than in-state options.  Additionally, we have the benefit of the WUE, the Western Undergraduate Exchange, which gives CA students a tuition discount at many western public universities [Learn more here] Aside from federal student loans, the largest chunk of money that helps students pay for college comes directly from the colleges themselves.  This means that applying to the right list of schools is the smartest way to get money for college (this is part of why our comprehensive plan starts at the beginning of 11th grade – the longer we look, the more likely we are to find these gems that fit socially, academically AND financially!).  If you want more information on how to do this, please feel free to either contact Magellan for an initial phone consultation (no charge).  We also recommend Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s online class for parents called “Cutting the Cost of College.”

So – bottom line.  Don’t give in to the negativity!  There’s no need.  Each student has unique needs and best outcomes.  Don’t allow anyone to judge YOUR child with THEIR values about what is best.

We are happy to help, if you need it.

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