The Journal of College Admission Spring 2015 - (Page 28)
We can address the reality of an unsure
environment in the college admission process,
while providing the best college counseling advice
to our students and families, by changing how
we talk about the process and by encouraging our
students to follow a process-Five First-Choice
Colleges-that sets them up for success instead
I have used this approach with my students
for the past few years, and slowly, I am seeing
a shift toward better outcomes in a process that
benefits from less stress and level heads. When I
work with my students, I encourage them to first
know who they are, what they value, how they
learn, and what their goals are for their college
years and beyond. With a realistic understanding
of their academic profile in hand, I encourage
them to focus on schools where they are a solid
match for the typical admitted pool. Where the
goals they have for the social/cultural setting
of a college matches what they are looking for
in the process. I ask each student to find five
schools for their application list that qualify as
To be one of the Five First-Choice Colleges,
the student's current academic profile (not what
he or she hopes to achieve during the fall of
senior year) has to be within the college's typical
admitted profile, the social/cultural piece has
to be a fit, the student needs to have at least
taken a look at the financial information, and the
student has to be excited about the school.
This sounds too simple to work, yet it does. By
asking each student to create a foundation of
these five schools, no matter what the spring
admission decisions bring, the student will have
good, solid choices from which to select. During
the research phase, if a student finds a school that
fits the criteria, but where she doesn't see herself
attending, it doesn't go on the list. Students can
add additional schools to the list (from their dream
lists, etc.) as long as they have five schools that
meet the basic criteria.
How did I come to change the approach I use
with students? Over the past few years, I have
seen what I consider to be bizarre and unpredictable admission decisions, increases in stress
on both sides of the admission desk, and an
exponential rise in stress on the part of students
and parents. I also witnessed students, more
than in previous years, becoming so enamored
of "reach" schools, hyped in part by the country's
obsession with rankings, that admission to
anything "less" than the reach school was
considered a failure by the student. What a sad
commentary on where we are when students being admitted to tremendous colleges which are
terrific matches for the students are not seen as
positive outcomes. The approach of "reach, zone,
safety" is so ingrained in our culture that most
people start with this as the default position.
Un-teaching and reteaching takes focus, time,
and energy. It will not be replaced overnight, but
it is worth consistent effort.
In 2014, the NACAC website reached 4 million hits!
THE JOURNAL OF
Colleges in the students' "match" or "zone"
category are likely to be the best fit for most students and that means that those schools should
be the focus of this process. By creating the Five
First-Choice college approach, I am trying to
reframe the conversation toward better outcomes
and less stress by putting the focus where it
should be in the admission process.
There is nothing particularly magical about five.
I chose five because transitions take time and I
want students to have good choices each spring.
Until the admission models become more predictive and college admission officers can better
predict yields-which would lead to less reliance
on the waitlists-students need a buffer in the
process. Ultimately, "Three First-Choice Colleges"
is an ideal approach for college admission.
Join me in adopting (or editing) this plan to meet
your students' needs. Five First-Choice Colleges
allows students to get excited about schools that
are likely to admit them-places where they are
more likely to find academic and social success.
Barbara Conner is director of college counseling
at Foxcroft School, a college-preparatory boarding
and day school for girls in grades 9-12 located
in Middleburg, VA and a frequent speaker on
ethical admission practices and current trends/
best practices in college counseling, for Potomac
and Chesapeake ACAC and Virginia Association of
Independent Schools. She earned her MEd at The
University of Virginia.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Journal of College Admission Spring 2015
The Journal of College Admission Spring 2015