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The Admission Hysteria

Surprised student holding an mobile phone

As the college admission results loom large, I feel the torment of my students. At the threshold of their futures, the mere sight of the mailman turning onto their streets or the ping of an arrived email on their phones or laptops can send their hearts racing only to either drop to the pits of their stomachs or, hopefully, send them into a frenzy of excitement. I can imagine that anticipation! If this level of anxiety were harbored at a later age it would include a barrage of stress related medications. Thank God, they’re still young and resilient. I have lived it many times over (and although not necessarily for this, I now take medications for blood pressure!); first with my own children and then with many who I’ve helped navigate this difficult path known as college admissions.

As an independent counselor, I represent no one other than the student. I have no allegiance to the school he or she is applying from or to. I merely serve as an objective, knowledgeable guide who can steer the student to make firm incremental footholds that may be elusive to parents or the child. Small objectives leading to larger goals and then validation from requisite sources will come – that’s been my motto, and all along suggesting pauses for deep breaths, good food, sleep and reflection.

College with Students Walking to Class

I can see both sides of the coin. Students are being pushed to newer heights in terms of performance – academically and otherwise. As if academic choices and rigor in school weren't enough, standardized tests have been added to the admission criteria. When the norm of these tests were no longer reliable, more tests were added to them – SATs lead to SAT Subject tests, ACTs, (for international students TOEFL amongst many other language proficiency tests) and an infinite number of tests each implying a simple statement – “If you take this test and score well, we’ll admit you!”

Students studying in a large university library

Soon the students were expected to add more to showcase themselves – their commitment to philanthropy. Let’s face it, an expectation burdened on an age group notorious for their egocentrism! Many parents are familiar with the experience of dragging their children out of their beds, thereby compromising a much-required teenage physiological need, to do social work on weekends. Why? Because their high schools have required them to complete a certain number of hours of social work so as to stand out in the application pool! Those who partake in sports are named Captains of their teams by their senior year so as to spread the wealth. And the list goes on. We now have high school students who are researchers, novelists, publishers, entrepreneurs, and what not, almost like in halfway houses toward adulthood.

At the same time, as a professor, I can understand a school’s growing need to lure more students. It is a business after all, in fact more of a shopping mall of infinite choices, promising students a brand name and unparalleled experience that can launch the students’ careers. Then there is the need to be selective so as to keep up with standards and statistical information such as entering GPAs, graduation rates, number of awards, potential research, etc. I understand that they have to do this at a certain time of the year, and there are only a certain number of people who can sieve through the admission applications. Just like the deadline for filing taxes, the admission deadlines leave a permanent imprint in the minds of those who experience it!

Teachers consulting at a table with papers

I’ve often wondered if those who are in charge of the selection process have undergone any sort of emotional preparation. If I were to look over a student’s four years of accolades and courses that befit PhD students, such as Advanced topics in Math, Engineering Applications, etc., and sum him or her up in the twenty or so minutes as worthy or not of my school’s education, I am bound to lose some sleep over shattering a child’s dream and career. Every student who was not in the admitted pool is perhaps now a part of his school of second or third choice. And that outcome would be because of me! Perhaps it’s the emotional disconnect, almost like a physician’s training, to deal with this culpability.

People discussing a decision on writing paper near computers

Did I say “twenty or so minutes”? Today’s article on The Wall Street Journal throws further light on the process – “Some Elite Colleges Review an Application in 8 Minutes (or less)”. I’m now bracing to prepare my students to face this and am going to reassure them that no matter what, the outcome has to be better than where they had started four years ago.

All those rewrites of essays has made them better writers, all those drives to the social service institutions has shown them the lives of those less fortunate and all the numerous test practices has taught them time management and study skills beyond exception. That is the outcome that they have to revel at and the gratuity perhaps is the school they get into!

Teacher looking at chalkboard that says "Dream Big & Make it Happen"

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