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Reflections on the College Admission Scandal

They did not have the faith to let their kids do it on their own.” – St. Mary’s student during a UNITE day presentation.

As we were celebrating the many and exciting options that were arriving with our seniors’ college acceptances, the Varsity Blues Admission Scandal hit us like a brick. Reading about the criminal behavior of parents attempting to get their progeny into their idea of a ‘good’ college was shocking yet unsurprising. The crescendo of fear and ambition around college admission has been building for many years as more students apply to more places and sticker prices balloon to absurd and impossible heights. One very good reason why many students apply to the most famous schools is because those are the very institutions that promise to meet 100% of fully demonstrated need.  We, the college counselors, wanted to share our thoughts with you as we all take a deep breath and promise, as we have always done, to keep your children at the heart of what we do.

Students’ needs, desires and a good understanding of their family’s financial parameters should be the center of their college search, rather than our ambition for them. And we, as college counselors, are incredibly grateful that St. Mary’s parents feel the same way. That being said, Varsity Blues gives us all the opportunity to reflect. Are we, as parents and counselors, careful not to crowd our students out of the process and become tangled in the anxiety-producing obsession around college admission? When our interest in a student doing something is only because it might help their applications or it interferes with our relationship with them, that is the moment to step back.

It’s possible to throw money at something that promises to ‘help’ our children ‘get in.’ Expensive services around the college process abound and might seem a good way to make the process easier or less stressful. In our experience many of those services replicate much of what we already do at St. Mary’s and just add more to a student’s already full plate. Inadvertently, we are implying that we don’t have enough confidence in them to let them find their own way. As college counselors, we encourage our students to seek schools that match their academic, social and spiritual goals, as well as your family’s budget. Parents do need to have a clear idea of what they can afford and make sure their student is fully informed. All this information helps them discern where to apply.

The deliberate steps of writing a well-constructed essay, choosing where to apply and managing the details of the applications, are all important steps in her journey, both to college and adulthood. Each provides another stone in the foundation that will support them as they continue to grow and mature. Keep an eye on the young adults they are becoming, even though your memories of helping them walk and tie their shoes are still fresh. Know that with your love, support, and guidance they have everything they need for a successful outcome.

The college search can be exciting and even fun. We welcome your participation by reaching out with your concerns. Together we will stay on the sidelines cheering your student on in this endeavor. They are well-equipped for the task.

Below are few additional insights on college admission scandal from the College Counseling Team:

The Right Way to Choose a College,” by Denise Page. This article neatly captures the ways in which the most obvious college rankings don’t reveal which colleges would be the best for your student.

They Had It Coming,” by Caitlin Flanagan. A window into the world that created the parents at the heart of the scandal told with perception and irony.