My oldest child is now a high school senior, which means that he is just starting to gear up his applications to college. Ha ha ha, I kid, I kid. We live in an affluent, well-educated suburb in Massachusetts: College has been on the agenda in our house for at least a year now.
Still, as the applications are beginning, I get to see how this process has changed since I was applying in the mid-1980s. For one thing, Wite-Out and a typewriter no longer appear to be necessary. For another, students looking to attend a selective college are applying to a lot more of them than when I was a callow youth.
Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is how much technology has facilitated the process. The common application is now pretty standard (though the coalition application is starting to catch on). This makes it much easier to apply to a plethora of schools. Furthermore, the common app software now plays well with high school software programs that collect student data on grades, test scores, extracurriculars, student résumés and recommendations.
I speak, of course, of Naviance. It is a software program that eliminates much of the drudgery of the application process. If you do not yet have a college-age child, there is no reason to have heard of it. If you do have a child who wants to apply to college, you should be worried if Naviance sounds unfamiliar.
Naviance is a nifty, award-winning piece of software. The thing is, I would very much like to destroy every copy of it in existence.
You see, Naviance serves two purposes in the application process. The first is to act as a repository of information that can then be transferred to a college application. It does that job quite well.
The other purpose Naviance serves is to inform students about colleges of interest. A high school student who uses Naviance can enter the college in question, and the program will immediately spit out an informative scatterplot. The x-axis is the SAT scores of every applicant to that college from that high school from the past three years. The y-axis is the grade-point average. Naviance then computes the average SAT score and GPA of the students who were admitted into the queried college.
Oh, and Naviance also does one other thing: It highlights how your child’s test scores and grades compare to the average admitted students.
In the abstract, this is an extremely useful feature. High school students who do not know much about particular colleges can use Naviance to determine which schools are beyond their reach, which are conceivable and so forth. Used logically, these scatterplots are extremely useful.
The problem is that whenever I have accessed Naviance, I do not use it logically. I am a parent of a child who is close to making the most significant economic decision of his young life. So I obsess over the data.
And the data is absolutely terrifying. The average test scores and GPA to get into very selective colleges seem impossibly high — much higher than how I did when I was in high school. I know, rationally, that these scatterplots are not perfect summary statistics. They do not incorporate other salient factors, like extracurriculars and letters of recommendation. But the irrational part of my brain looks at those scatterplots and becomes convinced that they are as reliable as those election forecasts from last year.
And so, every time I get on Naviance, I cannot help but look up college after college. Will my child be likely to get into the Prestigious Liberal Arts College That Shall Remain Nameless? What about the Expensive But Still Pretty Good “Safety School”? Would the Really Good College On the Other Coast be more receptive?
Let’s be clear: The fault lies with my obsessive personality and not Naviance. Thankfully, my child has not perseverated on this issue. Still, this program has now cursed me with excessively precise data that I cannot expunge from my brain. Naviance is a good program, but it should really come with a warning label: DO NOT OBSESS ABOUT THE SCATTERGRAMS.
Do not be like me, parents of college-bound students. Use Naviance wisely.