Thinking on college admissions...
The educational consulting philosophy of ThinkYes is to guide students to grow as individuals — to excel academically, to demonstrate expertise in an extracurricular area of their choice, to develop character, and shape their sense of possibility.
Colleges are businesses; this is not cynical, it is a reality that allows them to fulfill their mission of educating young men and women. As a business, they are interested in admitting students whose success after college will bring the college both prestige and funding. In my mind, two qualities are paramount in this type of applicant: 1) demonstrated success during high school, in literally anything 2) vision—an aspiration to impact the world in a unique way that relates to their academic and personal interests. This basic premise underlies much of ThinkYes’ philosophy.
Start early. The process of college admission starts early. It begins with classes chosen freshman year (even if “freshman grades don’t count”) and it begins with engaging in and discovering areas of interest (or disinterest), a few of which become areas of excellence. A family’s awareness and active thought regarding college, with or without a consultant, reduces the angst many associate with the college application process. More importantly however, it creates multiple opportunities for students to grow as individuals, discover and demonstrate their interests and abilities while in high school as well as college.
Consider the admissions officers’ point of view. The application is best communicated when viewed from the admissions officers’ perspective. Beyond identifying applicants who will succeed post-college, realize that their job is to create a class that supports and contributes to their college community. Realize that admissions officers ask two main question when they review applications: Can the applicant succeed academically at our school? And if so, does the applicant fit at our school? Realize that admissions officers accept or deny applications, not applicants. Each of these realizations impacts how a student prepares their application.
You don’t need to know your career to pick a college. What a 17-18 year old wants to do in in their adult career will change and morph and you certainly don’t need to know it now. Jobs are changing – and at such an incredible pace that your job upon graduation from college may very well not even exist today. (Did You Know 2019) Students are changing — they grow, learn, and experience new ideas each day — do not limit who you think you are by being typed as something you may have once been. And, beware of personality tests. If taken, view them as an additional piece of information rather than a decree of what you can and cannot do. And, why limit yourself to a single career area? Hyphenated careers (bio-informatic) and slashing (consultant/artist) are becoming common place in a world where technology has brought flexibility and portability of work; where there is little job security; where people who live longer can do more; and where work is seen as providing fulfillment in addition to financial security. (Unleashing Your Many Identities) Don’t be afraid to pursue what you love; it might become hyphenated or slashed! However, all of this change does not provide an excuse not to think deeply about how you intend to change the world. Having and communicating such a vision demonstrates an applicant’s ability to focus and direct their life efforts—adjusting their vision as they learn.
It is all about doing. Selective colleges in particular have the luxury to expect students who have demonstrated passion and excellence in an area of interest or two. This cannot be done without being engaged, taking risks, and thinking outside the box for opportunities to create and experience. This too is where parents can be of immense support for their early high school students. Grades and scores alone, perquisite for admission, are not sufficient. Throw out the wrong-headed idea of ticking college admission requirements off of a list. What select colleges want is what parents and students want. An individual who has, by being engaged, learned more about themselves, their interests and abilities, and have thus had the opportunities to build their character.
You decide. ThinkYes holds the conviction that the student is choosing the college, not the other way around. The student is in control; they are the consumers. If a student / family starts early and is willing to put effort into the process they retain control. The less effort, the more the balance shifts toward colleges deciding for you. “Effort” encompasses being engaged both academically and extracurricularly, studying for standardized tests, researching schools, understanding expectations, and doing some self-reflection—being willing to think deeply.
Applying to colleges is a team effort. It may not “take a village,” but for a student to develop their best application it involves parental support, the guidance of a college counselor, teachers and mentors, and a few willing individuals to read essays and applications and share their thoughts. Though unique to each family, parents play a vital role, this is not a time to step away; that role is most powerful when they are supportive and clear, yet allow their student to assume responsibility.
Rankings are a great tool, but not a short cut. Well used, rankings can be a huge asset to the college search process. Look at multiple rankings, understand their methodologies, and notice schools that keep popping up. Dig deep into the sub-rankings you have interest in…chemical engineering, not only engineering; or international business, not only business school. Research interesting schools including selective and less selective colleges; the final list must be balanced, with each school a place you would be happy to call home. Consider rankings a starting point, not the conclusion.