College applications and the ‘car ambush’


Britt Freitag, assistant director of admissions at George Washington University, left, and Karen S. Felton, director of admissions at GW, discuss application cases. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Hey parents, listen up. Here’s a hot tip for success in college admissions from an insider named Britt Freitag: No ambushes in the car.

Freitag, an admissions officer for George Washington University, is talking about the roles of parents and of high school students in the application process.

She’s talking about those times when parents have their kids trapped in a vehicle — chauffering them from one place to another — and therefore feel entitled to quiz said children about every little thing to do with applying to college.

Many times, perhaps most times, the teenaged passengers don’t appreciate these impromptu interrogations on the road.

“Car ambushes are the worst,” Freitag said. She should know. She spends many weeks talking with high school students as she recruits for the GW. Freitag was featured in a Sunday story in The Post that explored the inside machinery of college admissions.

Freitag recommends that parents and teenagers agree on a given hour of the week — say, 8 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays — when parents can ask anything they want about the application process without stress and students can answer however they want without stress.

Print this schedule out as a contract and sign it, if necessary, she said. The rest of the week, Freitag said, parents ought to back off and let college-bound kids lead their very busy lives without fear of getting grilled.

Freitag, 27, has worked in admissions for GW for a year and a half. Before that, she had admissions posts at Catholic University and Corcoran College of Art and Design. She graduated from Hamilton College. She said her own precollege experience was relaxed, with nobody hovering over her in a helicopter. “My mom was pretty much a submarine parent,” she said.

Now students, listen up.

More advice from Freitag. Be careful about focusing too much on yourself in that application. Freitag said that some students, when GW asks them to list a role model, name themselves. Which raises a question: “If you say that, are you really that confident?” Freitag asked.

Freitag, like other GW admissions officers, has a lot of power. She can say yes or no to an application on the first reading. Here’s an example from a morning in late February that The Post observed:

One student, she said, “is looking awesome. I’m not seeing anything that’s holding me back. Culturally, she’s a good match for us. I’m blown away. She’s the real deal. I don’t need to take her to committee. She’s going places. Hopefully, she chooses us.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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