News between the lines

I read an article this morning in the front section of the SF Chronicle that made me ask why this was news. In short, a high school senior is upset because she didn’t get into the top universities she applied to and blames the recruitment mailings from these schools.

So far, this is a typical story. You don’t always get into the places you apply for. Sometimes you search for something to blame. In this case, the blame is shifting to the schools she didn’t get into. It’s their fault she didn’t get in. Schools on the list she didn’t get into include Duke, Columbia, and Cornell. Let’s take Cornell for an example. It’s not the most selective school on the planet, but it has some dang high standards:

According to the College Board website’s profile on Cornell, the University accepts 18% of applicants, with SAT scores ranging of 640-730 on Critical Reading and 670-770 on Math for the middle 50% of applicants. There was no word on an average GPA, but 90% of incoming frosh were in the top 10% of their graduating class, 99% were in their top quarter, and 100% were in the top half. According to Cornell’s website, they receive over 30,000 applications each year. This should give some perspective on Cornell’s selectivity.

Any college applicant should ask the following questions at this point: Were you in the top 10% of your class? Did you do well on your SAT’s? Can you write a good application essay? Do you think you can beat out 24,600 applicants who probably have similar GPAs, similar SAT scores, and similar rounds of courses to what you took in high school. This should be a no-brainer dose of realism for an applicant. There’s no fault in applying (other than $70 and the time and energy) but the odds at starting aren’t really in your favor. Things like a stellar resume on your application, an alumnus in the family, or being the first in your family to ever go to college, according to Cornell, are factors they consider. These might raise your chances. Are you one of these?

According to the article, the girl set her hopes to high in applying to schools like Cornell because she was swayed by mailings that came in after she did well on her PSAT. Not even her SATs, her Preliminary SAT. That’s a little presumptuous, and the article doesn’t publish her SAT scores. They could be stellar, or they could be crap. I’d like to think they were, because saying she had crap scores would weaken their argument so it’d give them a reason to leave them out. Heck mine were crap. I know fist hand that they are only a small part of your application too since I got into some good schools with my crap SATs, but that’s not something the average reader would accept. They’d be more inclined to say “oh, her scores were crap, that’s probably why she didn’t get in.” But I digress.

What does make it somewhat funny in a sad sort of way is that this girl applied to 12 different schools and spent over $780 on applications. Damn. I wish I had that much to spend on applications when I was in high school! This is used to support how she was misled by all these schools. The article includes comments from the counselor at SF University High School, who calls the recruitment mailings “misleading” and “dishonest” and advises students to view them with skepticism.

In the schools’ defenses, the mailings attract attention to schools students might not consider going to. It’s advertising in a most basic form. Like us! Apply to us! We might get a great student out of it! We want your tuition money! The wider a school spreads the net, the greater the likelihood they’ll catch the right fish. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them sending ads out to students, though in my own experience I got quite annoyed at Mills College for continuing to send me what seemed like whole trees through the mail even after the application deadline went by. That’s just silly.

The situation is really sad to me because there’s really only two possibilities as to what’s going wrong here. First of all, I don’t blame the girl. Not one bit. Even if she’s a complete nitwit, it’s not her fault that she, like the colleges, spread her net wide and got only a few fish, though it doesn’t say what other ones out of the 12, other than the one she plans on attending, she got into, just the three headliners she didn’t. So onto the possibilities.

Possibility number one is that the girl didn’t have a counselor like the one from University High School to advise her on where she should apply to or how to make her application a winner or not to put her stock in the mailings that pour in like AOL CDs did in the 1990’s. This reminded me of one of my classmates who is doing her education master’s thesis on counseling because, let’s face it, most high school counseling experiences suck. If the problem lies with the counseling, then this is a topic that counselors need to cover when they do talk to high schoolers about college. In this possibility, a lot of the guilt is on the poor condition of counseling and advising for high schoolers.

The second possibility, which is more frightening, is that the students coming through high school, ones that the counselor at University is advising to be skeptical, don’t have the critical thinking skills to distinguish the fact that these mailings are advertisements. In this possibility, the advisor has cover for the fact that the students have no media literacy skills. The counselor at University has to advise his students that these are ads and not guarantees or promises that they will be accepted.

This to me is the crux of the problem. The advice helps catch the students that don’t grasp the concept on their own, but that seems a mighty big band-aid for how the students can’t grasp the concept. To me both possibilities are likely true and it highlights both the need to teach good thinking skills to all students and just how important and great the need for comprehensive college counseling is for students, because even a smart person can be misled, especially if it’s something they really want. These are things we need to give our students and equip them with. It’s sad that we don’t.

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~ by glasslajora on May 16, 2011.

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