Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You’re Worried About the Changes in College Admission. Your Students Aren’t, and Don’t Need to Be

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It’s easy to understand why some school counselors are nervous about next year.  SAT changes, a new multi-school college application, and major changes in financial aid deadlines are more than enough to concern those of us who have been involved in the college application process for a long time.

But here’s the thing.  Next year’s seniors haven’t been involved in the college application process for a long time.  They are bringing new eyes and new energy to a process that has exactly one purpose:  help them build what’s next in their life.  It may mean more than that to you, but that’s all it means to them, and that’s all it should ever mean to them.  That’s why they don’t really care about all the changes – and that’s why our task is to make sure they never do.

I know, I know.  “But there will system glitches with the new SAT and the new FAFSA deadline.”

Maybe.  But in case you missed it, this wasn’t exactly the smoothest year for standardized testing, even before the new SAT rolled out.  Colleges didn’t get test scores from both ACT and College Board until well after many application deadlines.  That wasn’t because anything was new; it just happened, we told the students, and they went back to English class.  Once it showed up, we dealt with it and moved on, minimizing student stress.  That goal is the same for this year.

“But kids need to know what their score on the new SAT means to colleges.”

Yes they do.  Just like last year’s students needed to know what their score on the old SAT meant to colleges.  They asked; the colleges told them, and the student had their answer.  This year shouldn’t be any different.

“But the new FAFSA deadline will really change things for students.”

Not really.  It will give this year’s students different opportunities and responsibilities, but this year’s class doesn’t have that knowledge—so they don’t have to change anything.  We have to change what we say to this year’s students, but it doesn’t change their existing mind set.  It’s all new to them.


OK.  Perhaps we should just talk about the real issue.  You aren’t worried about what the changes are going to do to your students, who don’t know the history of college admissions.  You’re worried about what the changes are going to do to you.  Interpreting the new SAT.  Helping students apply for college and financial aid at the same time.  Hoping the Coalition application allows you to send a transcript, and that it gets there.  All perfectly understandable.  All perfectly reasonable.

All having nothing to do with your students.

It makes perfect sense that you’re nervous about all of this, because it changes the way you do your work, and that means your programs, newsletters, and calendar all need to be updated, and may not be perfect this year.  It’s your first time doing things this way—just like it’s the first time your students are applying to college.  That means you’re in this together.

Use this to your advantage.  Combine your wisdom with your students’ sense of wonder and endless possibility, and see where it takes you.  It will be new, it may be unpredictable, and it may take you somewhere you least expect—but you will experience all of this together, with the student’s best interests as the ultimate and only goal.

In a time where college admissions seems more and more like a pricey game, what more could you possibly want than a chance to start fresh?

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