Oh yes, a good scandal can be very salacious and captivating. Such events often bring attention to many of human nature’s less-positive characteristics, such as: greed, power, deceit, cheating, personal gain at all costs, vainglory, and incredulity… just because it’s fun to say. Most people, if they are honest, gravitate to hearing about salacious things much more than hearing about other human characteristics like: tenacity, integrity, perseverance, hard work, creativity, and mission alignment.
Today we are going to chat about some of the issues associated with the college application and admissions process that have fallen from grace, but more importantly, we are going to refocus on those components of the college application process that are most important in the evaluation of college applicants as well as the most important things to focus on when developing your application.
First, let’s put some perspective on this current issue and situation.
Admissions…the reality -
• There are over 3,000 four-year colleges in the US
• Eighty percent of US colleges accept at least 50% of their applicants
• There are only about 30 schools with an acceptance rate of less than 15% (I thought Stanford/Harvard was lowest at around 4.5%, but no… Curtis Institute of Music is around 4.3%, Lang Lang is an alum)
• Over 2 million students apply and go to college in the US each year
• Even if the “scandal” includes more than a 1,000 students (which it doesn’t,) that would only be a fraction of 1% of students applying and getting accepted to college, even if we only looked at 100 of the schools with the lowest acceptance rates.
Standardized Tests… the reality -
• Over 1.6 million students take the SAT each year and about the same number take the ACT.
• Over 1000 US schools have dropped or don’t require the SAT/ACT admissions requirement, even well-known schools such as: (U of Chicago, Wesleyan, George Washington, Brandeis, Pitzer, Bowdoin, etc.) don’t use the SAT for admissions evaluation. And there are many more schools following suit. The College Board is not pleased…and shouldn’t be given they make hundreds of millions of dollars from the SAT each year.
• The number of incidents involving fraudulent ACT/SAT tests is a fraction of a fraction of a percent. Does bribery—or rather, debauchery, because it’s more fun to say—occur? Sure. Is it wide-spread? No. Is it statistically significant? Definitely, No. Is it salacious? Absolutely!
Coaches and Admissions Representatives… the reality –
• To believe that there are more than a handful of fraudulent coaches and admissions representatives working in colleges in the US is offensive to those who are in those positions doing great work for students and colleges/universities. Do cheaters exist in those professions? Yes. Would more than a handful be able to operate without being caught? Not a chance.
College admissions consultants – the reality
• Majority of consultants are ethical, focus on fit, and do not charge the exorbitant amount reported in the media. The media purposely seeks out the high-paying firms because it makes better reads.
• Reading about consultants who barely breakeven and are doing it to increase access for families that need it or ones that work pro-bono isn’t interesting to ready about.
• When choosing a consultant, it's important to pick one based on fit rather than – can this consultant get my child get into that school through using false promises?
Money factor in college admissions – the reality
• Donations do factor in and it depends on how much and which schools
• Unless a school is need-blind, money does play a factor
Again, rather than focus on debauchery and salaciousness and unicorns, let us step back and acknowledge the much more important and positive ways to spend our time and energy. What are the best ways to develop appropriate, effective, and competitive applications (and test scores) through diligence, planning, and study… which are much more productive than focusing on the incredibly small number and miniscule percentage of bad actors.
So, what should students and families focus on in order to make their application as strong and competitive as possible? The same things that we have talked about in our last two years of podcasts… and gelato, grilled-cheese sandwiches…but most importantly…
Your Story –
Admissions representatives and application evaluators consistently identify a student’s story, academic record, and recommendations working together as a “unified statement” as the most effective and influential part of a competitive college application.
Essay + Recommendations + EC’s = Your Story. They should all resonate the same story and build a clear picture of who you are, what is most important to you, your character, sense of humor, and yes…even those things you need to work on. Providing evidence of “Humble Swagger” is something that college admissions representatives will not only appreciate, they will champion.
With that sage information as a tenet and guide, what should a student focus on in developing the most effective and competitive application that will tell Your Story?
Time and Preparation –
As college admissions advisors our most luxurious commodity is… time. Time to prepare a student and time for a student to prepare.
An essay written over a weekend will never be as thoughtful and polished as an essay that has been developed, re-worked, percolated, and refined over a few months and multiple drafts. Again, representatives tell us that drafts and refinement are just as clear as having someone else “over-helping” the process.
When writing your personal statement essay a reader/evaluator should have a clear picture of who you are, what is most important to you, your character, influences, ambitions, goals and excitement for the future. That is a big burden for a 650-word statement. To do that well requires time, percolation, cogitation and time. Start early. Get feedback. Draft. Draft. Draft.
Consistently studying for the SAT over six months a little at a time will provide much greater results than cramming for a weekend. One of the best correlations to SAT/ACT improvement is the number of practice tests taken. Intentional study of unmastered content identified during practice tests also correlates to improved scores. With dozens of free, on-line, timed, full-length SAT tests w/answers… there is no excuse not to prepare.