College: The Ultimate Hypebeast
Parents, you may be part of the problem…but you also have the power to help solve it.
Myth: “The path to college is fair and equitable.”
Sounds ideal right?
Unfortunately, there are too many instances where this statement is false, and we all hear how some people pay to get a higher test score, to have an amazingly polished college essay, to appeal admissions decisions, and to build hyped up resumes. The race is on, and I am here to stop it.
The Higher Education Dilemma
What College should be and can be, is a place of continued learning, problem solving, a place where students engage civically, socially, and personally. This is what we hope students do when they pursue higher education. Something that is continued all through life, as learning never ends. Higher education is not a check box to a prescribed perfect life.
Parents, we must think beyond what is best for our own children. I have a child, so I can say this with full honesty. As an educator and as a mother, I feel this deeply. I see this from a unique vantage point, but I don’t think we all need to work in education to see it, nor to do what is right and just for our society and all children.
The current educational system we are lauding & striving for, the one we have created for our children, is broken. The idea that in order to have a good fulfilling life, you must win, and get in front of others by all means necessary, is wrong. Students are told that life is a competition, and it starts early with shiny stickers next to their name on a chart in preschool for behaving, continues with their class rank in high school, and then the race for higher test scores and college acceptances, to ultimately earning merit awards, and ill placed value on college prestige.
Myth: There are only a finite amount of resources available, in this case, colleges worth pursuing.
This is simply not true, and this notion is at the root of the obsessive focus on higher education prestige, the meritocracy.
As educators, we can be champions for change and social justice. We can help build an equitable education for all. Our role is not to help individual students perfect their applications to fit into a specific mold that has been created, marketed, and sold to us by corporations like the Collegeboard and ACT. Think about that for a minute. Your worth is not a test score, yet that is what we are instructed and conditioned to believe. Want proof? Read this blog that digs deep into the inequities the SAT & ACT tests perpetuate. The agencies have money and a strong lobby, and despite the message they are sharing to the public about college access, I ask you to follow the money. The boards for public high schools and colleges have been swooned.
I am here to tell you, there is another way, but we must all stand up for that change.
The Educator Role
As an educator, my role is to help students navigate this system, but to also point out the inequities, and hopefully change them.
As a college counselor, knowing that if I can help a student and a parent make their choices based on what is ethical, and what is good for not only their wellbeing, but that of the collective, then I have done a good job. I am not going to tell you what college means for each of you, because it is different for everyone. I will tell you that although colleges are businesses, they are also social mobility launch pads for many of the students who pursue higher education. For first generation students and students from low income backgrounds, a college degree can change the trajectory of their lives and earnings forever. This is undeniable.
Our role is also to help students see that they have desirable skills and interests, and to show them how to highlight them. Our job is to help them find an educational pathway for them to explore, develop, and afford, so they can invest in their future and the future of our society in a positive way.
A question I often ask students is what problems do you want to solve? If they can’t answer that question yet, that is okay, but it gets them thinking outside of themselves. When I hear things like, I just want to make a lot of money, I try to steer them into the idea of making a difference for others while they are at it. Our messaging must change.
My role as college counselor has helped shape and develop my own thinking around what college admissions is and what it should be for our society. My role in this is to first do what is good for students, not what is good for accountability or corporations. My role is to remove barriers for the most vulnerable students, to speak out against injustices in our educational system, against racist and inequitable systems, and to help those who historically, and currently have been systematically oppressed by our educational system.
This is all of our jobs.
My Unsolicited & Free Advice for Parents:
You do not need to pay someone to help your student be successful and apply to college or find the right path. There is free and good advice available, and you can do research on your own. Paying someone to help your child, is in a sense, using your privilege, to get them to the front of the line by bypassing those who can’t afford to. This is deepening the divide and inequity. What are we teaching our children, our students, if this is what we practice? Our society grows further and further apart. You can use your privilege for good. Make a difference for society, not only for your own child.
Do test scores matter? Some colleges do look at test scores, but the good news is that high school course work and grades are much stronger predictors of college success. So don’t let the media coverage of high stakes testing scare you into believing that it is the only way to get into college and earn scholarships, it is simply not true. The good news is there are test optional colleges that admit students based on factors outside of SAT or ACT tests. Check out fairtest.org for the fast growing list of colleges and opportunities.
Talk to your school counselor and college center if you’re fortunate to have one. Read their emails, go to their events, and ask questions. It’s free.
Community College is college! It is 100% fine to start there, transfer from there, or finish there. Be proud of yourself if you choose higher education and community college is the best fit for you emotionally, financially, academically, or logistically!
Parents, please don’t share or compare your student’s college list and acceptances with your friends. It is a personal choice, and students have the right to share or keep that private. This practice is what keeps feeding the hype beast. The US News & World Report college rankings are a perfect example of hype gone awry.
Let your student lead this process. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and some students may finish the race last, but they will get there, and it may be the pace they need to do so.
If you are looking for college admissions advice from an enjoyable read, I recommend the book, The Truth about College Admission. For $18 dollars, you will learn what is needed to approach the college admissions process with sanity. I don’t make any money off promoting it. It is just good, honest, and true. I keep it on my desk at work. Another book that dives into this world that honestly opened the door to a lot good conversations around the inequities in college admissions is Paul Tough’s book, The Years that Matter Most. I highly recommend it too.
Parents, this is all a lot, but we can all try to be better for all students. I showed this TED talk to an audience of parents last year before a college admissions panel, and I encourage you to watch it today too. It is time for us to shift our focus, and be better for the collective. Our students and our society need this from us.