Its not the college, its the kid

The college application process is less stressful when students set their sights on schools that are right for them.

The college application process doesn't have to be an overwhelming process to kids and their parents. Stress. Anxiety. Passion. Dishonesty. Anger. These are just a few of the words a group of eleventh grade students used to describe how they feel about the college admissions process during a recent presentation by Lloyd Thacker, author of College Unranked and founder of The Education Conservancy. Thacker assured parents and students that, despite common perceptions, “applying to college does not have to be overwhelming.”

Co-hosted by Key and Severn schools, Thacker spent a chilly February evening telling the audience about the slick marketing practices that colleges and universities now use to lure in students. Some schools, he said, are investing in excess of $3,000 to attract each new student. Many are hiring high-priced marketing consultants to create a perfect public image. Crucial to that image are the national high rankings that have become so desirable to parents and students.

College marketing and branding, student consultants, college ranking, guide books, testing and test preparation services are now multi-billion dollar industries. The result is frantic students and parents doing whatever it takes to get into a handful of select colleges. Surprisingly, 25 percent of all college applications go to a mere 1 percent of all schools.

Each college would like prospective students to believe they are the best choice, the one “perfect” college. But study after study has shown that going to college — any college — is ultimately what makes the biggest difference to the long-term earning power of a person. Princeton University and the Mellon Foundation co-sponsored a study that found that students selected to go to an Ivy League school but enrolled elsewhere made the same amount of money as their Ivy League peers after 10 years.

The Wall Street Journal reported that only 11 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have degrees from Ivy League schools. CEOs with degrees from public colleges and universities make up 48 percent of the total.
Again and again studies show that it is the student and his or her critical thinking, compassion, ethics and confidence that count in the long run. There are many good colleges; what the student does in college makes the biggest difference.

When choosing a school Thacker recommends that families talk about their values and why they want their child to go on to college. Students should decide on the type of environment and teaching philosophy that appeal to them.
What makes a good college? The answer may vary for each student. In general, a good college is one where the students are happy to be there. The school should support the free exchange of ideas, show a reasonable amount of student diversity, encourage curiosity, stimulate imagination, and, of course, have qualified and engaging professors teach the classes.
 
Thacker’s advice to students:

  • Do not take any standardized admission test more than twice.
  • Do not rely on the rankings to select colleges.
  • Limit to six or fewer the number of colleges to which you apply.
  • Do not allow others to do for you what you can do for yourself. The more you do for yourself, the better the outcome of your college admission process.
  • Share your questions and concerns with your teachers, high school counselors, parents and college representatives.
  • Do not apply to a college simply because the application is free or easy.
  • Do not approach college admissions as a game to be played or won.
  • Do not let an admission decision, test score or GPA tell you what you are worth.
  • Follow your curiosity, be confident, work hard and enjoy learning

More information is available from The Education Conservancy at www.educationconservancy.org, where you can purchase Thacker’s book, College Unranked. The book is a compilation of essays from leading college administrators and admission officers that offers an insight into the realities of the college admission process.