Recommendation

Colleges are businesses. Colleges are businesses with some nice folks trying to good things, but colleges are businesses nonetheless. Colleges aren't creepy dishonest businesses like Enron, but somebody at the college is aware that income should exceed expenses.

Just as a chicken is in egg's way of making another egg, how this year's entering first-year class is selected has a lot to do with next year's entering class. Colleges want to keep all the referral sources content and active. Counselors from the wealthy private day schools need to feel like they are an integral part of the admissions process. Counselors from boarding schools need to feel like their recommendations are taken seriously. Alumni interviewers need to feel connected to the process of assembling an appropriate first year class. Advocates for first-generation students need to feel like their voices are heard. Coaches need to be validated. Colleges even want the parents of applicants to feel good about the process. If older sister Susie is rejected, younger brother Johnny will still be encouraged to apply.

Because colleges want applicants. That is the business model. Period. The more applicants, the better.

College A admits one applicant in five. College B admits one applicant in 10. Students perceive that college B is better than college A because College A is more selective. Is that the stupidest thing you've ever heard? No, it's not. Your brother-in-law took the rent money, went to the race track, and lost it all. Believing that College B is "better" than College A because it is more selective is only the second stupidest thing you have ever heard.

Constituents being made to feel important even when there is a fixed number of first year spaces - - is even more pronounced at the next tier of colleges, those that admit one student in two rather than one in five. These colleges are eager ("desperate" is such an ugly word) for more applicants. They want to "move up" to the next level of selectively. Colleges don't even have admissions offices anymore. The admissions department is now called "enrollment management."

So all the constituents are led to believe that their input is critically significant. "Your input is important to us," the college communicates to the liaison from the alumni committee. "Please know that legacies are given every consideration," says the head of admissions on Monday. On Tuesday, she is searching under-represented schools for first generation applicants and affirming the commitment to advocate for low-income populations. No one points out the flagrantly obvious arithmetic: there are the same number of first year slots as there were last year. The admissions director is looking for applicants. Special consideration is being offered to everyone.

Admissions directors are overwhelmingly honorable decent people trying to make honest decisions about whom to admit. ADs want a diverse class of legacies and first generation kids, athletes and scholars, engineers and poets. But ADs decide who gets a bed, not the number of beds.

Where does the craziness of believing that influence matters take us? To parents who believe that they need to get the "right" counselor to write the recommendation for their child. "Counselor X has only got hired last year," they opine. "But Counselor Y knows how admissions works after 20 years at the high school."

Can you imagine? A highly selective college admits one child rather than another based on a recommendation from one college counselor rather than that of a colleague? Let's ignore course selection, grades, rank in class, test scores, essays, activities, jobs, honors, and teacher recommendations. Instead, a decision will be made based on this counselor from the expensive private day school wrote the college rec rather than that counselor from the expensive private day school? Nah.

Who writes the counselor recommendation makes no difference.

Which brings us--"finally" you might say--to some directed advice about college admissions specifically and parenting in general. Focusing on where and how your child will be admitted to college misses the point of high school in much the same way that robbing a bank is different from earning an honest living. Who your child is matters more than where your child goes. A student with the academic ability and motivation to do well in the classroom will be successful subsequent to being admitted to College A or to College B. It's the kid in the college, not the college in the kid.

Which is the subject of the book I have just finished writing. Working title: Get your Kid into the Right College. Get the Right College into your Kid. Publication details to follow.

In the meantime, let's keep our eyes on the prize. It doesn't matter which counselor writes the college recommendation. And who your child is matters more than where she goes.

4 thoughts on “Recommendation

  1. Lynn Nash

    …and please don’t lose sight of opportunities for your child other than traditional college. Apprenticeships and technical training for trade skills lead to satisfying and financially rewarding careers.

    Reply
  2. cp

    small vs. large
    so knowing my child has ADD (not hyper) with self esteems issues and trying to break through his own thoughts in order to socialize,
    do I guide him towards a college with smaller classrooms and less options or bigger college with lots of social opportunities but more likelihood of getting lost in the classroom?

    I think I just answered my own question 🙂

    Reply

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