College Admissions

Eric’s oldest child has been accepted to many awesome colleges. It’s a happy time for them.

Also, some of my children are in high school, and so, the reality of college admissions is increasingly getting closer. Those children are currently deciding what courses to take next year.

One has been asking me for advice and wonders how to balance personal interests vs. managing the optics for college admissions.

I think back on my own experience and realize how irrelevant it is. You see, I applied to colleges sight unseen and was pretty naive about it. Back then, there was no Common App., parents didn’t hire admissions consultants, and the admissions rate at Yale College was 18%. Now, Yale admits only 6%. It is crazy.

So, my advice has been this: take courses that will help you grow and better understand what you’re called to do in life. And, let the college admissions chips fall where they may. Don’t overload on AP courses and suffer sleep deprivation for years, unless you really like the subject matter.

Here’s why. If the odds of getting into a fancy school are so absurdly low, it means that legions of qualified applicants are being rejected. So, there’s likely more randomness in the process. Call it luck or standard error.

So, why manage optics if so much of the process is outside of one’s control? Instead, take courses for the old-fashioned reasons of finding your passion and what forces you to grow as a person.

Maybe that’s a naive view, but I’m new to this. I’d love to hear from other parents who have been through this process.

Should I push my children to take more advanced courses? That doesn’t feel right to me.


5 thoughts on “College Admissions

  1. The common app makes it so much easier to apply to college now. Many of my daughter’s classmates applied to 12-15 schools each. In my day, my classmates applied to an average of four. And there was recently a lot of press for the student that applied to, and was admitted, to all of the Ivies. As a result, schools are receiving so many more applications, admit a much lower percentage, and pray for good “conversion” for those accepted to those who matriculate.

    That said, I agree with your assessment that the goal of school is for students to find out what they enjoy and figure out what they will do for their next “act” in a life filled with many, hopefully!

    1. It’s an arms race among the colleges. They want to show a low admissions rate. I read somewhere that colleges should move to the medical school system, whereby there’s a mutual “matching” process.

  2. Both of our daughters went to a small private high school with graduating classes of 50. There was a lot of competitive pressure on them amongst their peers on who was applying where, who was getting into what colleges etc, was it a name college etc. Each day they would come home and say ” she got into this college and so on. Our advice at that time was to try not to get caught up in that. Framework out what is important to you to experience in the next journey in your life. For one daughter it was to experience the big school aspect. She received almost a full scholarship to a Catholic school in Boston but said ” Dad it’s too much like my high school” and decided to opt for a large university of 10000 students. The other wanted a small college with a curriculum that suited her goals(Teaching).There were some named schools that had great reputations but she moved away from them. In fact her high school followed her after and asked to come back and be the Commencent Speaker at a recent graduation to talk about her journey. They followed their hearts, enjoyed their journeys and went on to receive their Masters following those schools and look back and know they did the right things for themselves with getting caught up in the whole process which can be stressful but does not have to be.

  3. ‘ legions of qualified applicants are being rejected. So, there’s likely more randomness in the process. Call it luck or standard error.”

    This is dead on. Even if you are a qualified candidate you have to be the one of 100 just like you that gets their name pulled from the hat. It can be very disheartening to work so hard and then be subjected to this randomness.

    Furthermore, I believe strongly in what I call ‘The RC Cola Analogy.’

    A friend that worked at Pepsi told me that when they did private taste tests in focus groups that it wasn’t Coke or Pepsi that would win, it was RC Cola. However, Coke & Pepsi had marketing budgets and brand recognition well beyond what RC Cola could hope to put together. When you go out and visit the Miami of Ohio’s of the college world you realize that Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, Boston College have not cornered the market on education or experience but they have brand recognition. We know that can make a small difference in the long run but honestly, for undergraduate degrees? I’ve told my kids to take courses they like and in which they can be challenged but successful. Then, if you must go to college and that is becoming a bigger ‘if’ all the time, then go to a ‘good enough’ school. A good enough school will get you into a good graduate school which is far more important in my opinion.

    You are spot on Jo. As usual.

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