Thursday, April 7, 2016

College Admissions and a Satirical Approach to the Issue

Every year at this time around the country, students are either checking online or going out to their mailboxes with a combination of anticipation and dread to find out whether they have been accepted or rejected at college. When I was a senior in high school, the size of the envelope was the not-so-subtle indicator—a thick one signified acceptance, a thin one conveyed disappointment.  These days, many students can go to a portal at a certain designated time and find out where they may be spending the next few years of their lives. The final days of March and the first days of April can be anxiety-ridden or energizing, and as school administrators and parents, all we can do is be there for our children as they receive the news.  
We can also stand back and try to have a humorous approach to the college search and admission process. This is where a recent satirical column by The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, author of the highly recommended book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, comes in handy. In his column, “College Admissions Shocker!,” Bruni shared, the news that, in an effort to be even more selective, “Stanford University announced this week that it had once again received a record-setting number of applications and that its acceptance rate — which had dropped to a previously uncharted low of 5 percent last year — plummeted all the way to its inevitable conclusion of 0 percent.”  

To explain, Bruni quoted a Stanford administrator, “We had exceptional applicants, yes, but not a single student we couldn’t live without. In the stack of applications that I reviewed, I didn’t see any gold medalists from the last Olympics—Summer or Winter Games—and while there was a 17-year-old who’d performed surgery, it wasn’t open-heart or a transplant or anything like that. She’ll thrive at Yale.”’

Bruni continues by describing how Stanford’s decision not to accept students will affect the already frenzied college admissions process nationally.  As is true with all good satire, Bruni takes what may be current reality to its most extreme to show us what may be wrong.  As report after report has shown, the stress around the college admissions process has reached a point where students are breaking down emotionally and physically.  Even the people in the college admissions world have discussed the need for change as more and more high school students are tailoring their lives and their entire beings to fit what they believe admissions officers are looking for in applicants.  In addition, in an ever more competitive international economy and with college costs continuing to rise astronomically, parents are becoming more stressed out and going to extreme measures to have their children accepted into what they see as the perfect college.  

Many, many people including college presidents, admissions officers, and writers like Bruni have called on all of us to take a deep breath, relax, and realize that there are many outstanding colleges and universities across the country.  Whether a student attends an Ivy League college, a large state school, or a small liberal arts university, the important thing is that the school feels right for that person.  

Visiting with alumni last week in Washington, D.C., during our Winterim trip reminded me how important the notion of “fit” is.  Here were former Bosque students ranging in age from having just graduated last May to individuals in their mid-to-late 30s, and they were all doing interesting things professionally and living fulfilling lives.  They attributed their success to Bosque partially, and that was heartening, but they also discussed where they went to college and how well they did there.  Just as the students at Bosque represent a diversity of talents and interests, so will their college and graduate school choices reflect a variety of abilities and passions. Some Bobcats will go to colleges on the East Coast, some will stay in NM, and some will go to universities on the West Coast, including Stanford; the vast majority will flourish in their new college homes, secure in the knowledge that the place they have chosen is the right place for them.  As the adults in their lives, we need to support and encourage them while not allowing ourselves to be caught up in the hysteria.  If we approach the college search process with perspective and wisdom, they will take their cues from us, and their high school lives will be happier, healthier, and more sane.