Brennan Barnard, one of the authors of the piece about unfair admissions, is back with some truths about the process — all collected from college admissions deans themselves. Barnard is the college admission program manager at the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of college counseling at the private Derryfield School in New Hampshire.
He is also the co-author, with Rick Clark, of the new book “The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together,” written as a resource for families who, Barnard said, wish to approach the admissions experience in a thoughtful and balanced way guided by unity and purpose, not games and status. Clark is the director of undergraduate admissions at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Here’s what admissions deans told Barnard. While some of the advice may not be new to those who have already been through the admissions process, millions of families haven’t, and it’s important to go in knowing what’s true.
By Brennan Barnard
Over the past year, college admission has been riddled with mistrust. We have watched as families fixate on commercial college rankings — as if they were reliable indicators of quality — while erroneously tying admission selectivity to success in college and life. Some parents have tried to buy their children’s way into college, and others have even forfeited guardianship of their offspring to cheat the financial aid system.
But the truth is, there is no silver bullet to a college acceptance, no one secret to being admitted to a highly selective college, no guarantee. Anyone who tells you differently is likely looking to profit from your anxiety.
While the media has recently focused on reporting the extreme and unhealthy examples of parents trying to get their children into top colleges, that’s not what most families try to do.
In our new book, “The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together,” my co-author, Rick Clark of Georgia Tech, talked with high school counselors and college admission leaders throughout the country about the more common and encouraging aspects of this experience, and the myriad opportunities that exist.
Here are some truths about college admission, as offered by college admission deans:
- “College admission is NOT about finding the one ‘right’ college for you, but discovering the many — across multiple levels of selectivity — that will welcome you and challenge you to grow as a student and a person.” — Bill Conley, vice president for enrollment management, Bucknell University
- “Even directors of admission get rejected. As a high school senior, I was denied admission to my first choice college. Now, I am the director of admission at the university I attended. Point being: Things have a way of working themselves out. Just like the John Lennon quote, ‘Everything will be all right in the end; If it’s not all right, it’s not the end,’ you are going to have ups and downs and might have to deal with some stinging rejections. These are rejections of your application, not of you as a person. But these things happen with a purpose. There’s more than one ‘perfect school’ for you, and even if it doesn’t seem apparent at this very moment, eventually, things will be all right.” — Jeff Schiffman, director of admission, Tulane University
- “Families hold significantly more power in their college search and student’s success than they typically imagine possible.” — Candace Boeninger, associate vice provost for strategic enrollment management and director of undergraduate admissions, Ohio University
- “No one is entitled to enroll at the selective institution of their choice. Your hard work and ability increase your college options but not your ability to choose exactly where you will go. It is a process where you can do absolutely everything right and not get what you want. For some students (and parents), it’s the first time that happens.” — Mike Sexton, vice president for enrollment management, Santa Clara University
- “Every institution has different resources and priorities, so every process will be different. Trying to boil it down to a one-size-fits-all will you leave you frustrated, and probably looking like a generic applicant.” — Santiago Ybarra, director of admission, Pitzer College
- “We enjoy ADMITTING students. I am not a Dean of Denial and there is no Denial Committee. I am a Dean of Admission and lead an ADMISSION Committee. We look for reasons to admit students, as opposed to reasons to deny them.” — Kent Rinehart, dean of admission, Marist College
- “Students do want to find great places that will help them be successful in the next phase of their educational journeys. Colleges do want to find students who will thrive on their campuses. We all get a bit blinded by side issues of selectivity, perceived prestige and fine distinctions of quality.” — Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment, Union College
- “Selectivity has nothing to do with the quality of education.” — Heidi Simon, senior associate director of admission, University of Kansas
- “We need to tell students: That their social and emotional well-being in a postsecondary education environment is as important as being ready for the rigors of the educational or classroom challenges. That they are not defined by an acceptance letter, T-shirt or bumper sticker. That wherever they go, they will be successful and happy and they will be supported.” — Jody Glassman, director of university admissions, Florida International University
- “The vast majority of colleges admit more than half of their applicant pools. Their graduates go on to live happy, successful and fulfilling lives — even when they don’t attend the handful of highly selective colleges frequently cited in the media.” — Mary Wagner, assistant vice president for enrollment management, executive director of admission, University of South Carolina
- “Much of the admission decision rests on factors beyond the student’s control by the time the application is submitted.” — Heath Einstein, dean of admission, Texas Christian University
- “The various rankings will do more harm — making you overlook a great school — than any good you might expect after a well-researched college search process.” — Andy Borst, director of admissions, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- “College admission offices strive to support and serve a diverse and talented array of prospective students while fulfilling institutional expectations and strategic priorities. It is in the hope of serving both student and institution that admission offices navigate the complexities, challenges and incongruent priorities of these two extremely important but often disparate masters. Finding mutually successful outcomes both has become the all-consuming, challenging and increasingly difficult work of admission professionals today.” — Mike Steidel, dean of admission, Carnegie Mellon University
- “ ‘Fit’ works both ways — students and colleges should both be true to their identities and goals when making decisions about whom they should admit (colleges) and where they should enroll (students).” — Brian Troyer, dean of admissions, Marquette University
- “Most public colleges and universities have a greater responsibility to in-state students because of the state funding that is received. Therefore, we charge a tuition premium for an out-of-state resident.” — Clark Brigger, assistant vice president for undergraduate education and executive director for undergraduate admissions, Pennsylvania State University
- “You can only attend one institution, and applying to more than 20 means a lot of extra work on the back end, for the student/family, trying to determine the best fit. We understand that many students are in search of the best deal (gift aid) from a university, but you can also use our net-price calculators to obtain an idea of how much you might be eligible to receive.” — John Ambrose, interim executive director of admissions, Michigan State University
- “There are three key steps — students decide where to apply; colleges make admission offers; and students have control again in the end when they decide where to enroll. And when one considers that students have significant ownership of their curriculum and the grades they earn, they actually have great influence on all three stages of the admission process.” — Todd Rinehart, vice chancellor for enrollment, University of Denver
- “Families should be more focused on the rooms they walk into every day, i.e. their kitchens, living rooms, classrooms, than admission committee rooms they’ll never enter. Admission decisions are not fair. They are neither a value judgment, an assessment of parenting acumen, or a prediction of future success.” — Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission, Georgia Institute of Technology