It’s spring, and with most college decisions out, calls are blossoming for college application reform like daffodils. This call is usually led by counselors who are either exhausted from running the application gauntlet, or are disillusioned when a top student is denied admission to their dream school. Either way, they feel there is a better way to do this.
I’m always eager to see things improve—keyless remote car start is genius—and I’d love to return a student’s senior year back to the business of, well, being a senior. Still, it might be wise to develop a common understanding of what’s meant when we say we want the application process to improve. What might that look like, and how would we know it’s better? Here are some outcomes I’ve heard.
More students end up at their top choice school My top student (perhaps ever) was deferred by a college where he was well beyond the mean. It turned out that was the problem—the college decided the only reason a student that qualified would apply there would be to use it as a backup, and they resented the implication, so they decided to see just how serious he was.
If improving admissions means colleges stop doing things like that, I’m game. On the other hand, if the goal is to simply get more students in at their dream school, that’s just not feasible. Harvard would no longer be Harvard if they admitted twice as many students, and some students, bless them, don’t have a realistic understanding of what a particular college expects of them.
It should be easier to apply I like the spirit of this idea as well—six drafts of a personal statement is about three too many, and overburdened teachers shouldn’t have to write a student’s second letter of recommendation if the college gets the gist of the student with just one.
At the same time, the notion of making applying to college as easy as ordering at a drive thru—“One Ivy admission with an extra serving of Big Ten safeties”—can easily lead to students applying to schools without really considering if this is a place that offers the right mix of opportunity, challenge, and support. This isn’t about being a gatekeeper; it’s about making a responsible choice.
The real question, at least to me I enjoyed the last 15 years of my work at 2 schools where every student went to college, and I’d like to think I helped them make good choices. Still, there’s a good chance all those students would have attended a college that met their needs, if only because they went to a high school where every student went to college.
If we’re really serious about changing admissions, I’d suggest we start with this question, and see where it takes us:
Jamie is a 14-year-old student living in a large city. Jamie’s 15-year-old cousin Blaine lives in a rural area, some 100 miles from the nearest college campus. Both come from single parent households, with Jamie’s mom holding down three jobs just to pay the rent, and Blaine’s dad making just enough from his crops each year to stave off bankruptcy. Both attend a public high school where the one school counselor meets the social/emotional, academic, and career and college plans of 1800 students, and both come from homes where they would be the first in their families to go to college.
What would the college admissions process look like if we assume every student had the backgrounds and resources of Jamie and Blaine?