The Guidance Counselor Is In

image from dullhunk

Office hours: 24 hours a day.  Case load: one student.  Wow, you say.  SuzyQ must be lucky to have such personalized attention in her college search.  Well, you see…I’m the Guidance Counselor.  Tack that on to my other roles of teacher, household Chief Operating Officer, oh…and mom and wife.  So, here I am, spending hours each day learning the new ropes of college admissions.  And it is an all-new ballgame from the one I remember 25 years ago.

Did you know that there are social networks devoted exclusively to college matching and admissions?  I do– now.  I remember the PSAT and the SAT from my own college search.  These days, though, the alphabet soup has expanded considerably:  ACT, SAT II, FAFSA (used to be the FAF), CSS, NSSE, and EFC to name a few.  I knew about early decision, but I have found out that a student can also apply under early action or single-choice early action plans as well.  I’m learning which schools use the Common App and which ones are test optional. 

I don’t have an advanced degree in education, yet I have managed to untangle the statistics and terminology enough to help SuzyQ begin to assemble a list of schools.  We have visited 8 colleges and universities so far, not counting the ones we just walked around during the Christmas break.  What I want to know is, if the competition to get admitted to college is as fierce as the media would have us believe, why are so many parents and students so completely ignorant about the whole process?  After all, most kids can just drop into their guidance counselor’s office any day at school.  Parents could call or email their kid’s counselor with questions or use the school’s login password to access information on various websites restricted to school use.

Our most recent college visits have been to a conservative Catholic school, an Ivy, and a selective private college.  At each one, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the questions that were asked by parents of prospective students.  At Catholic College, parents had never heard of the Common Application or that gate-keeper of financial aid, the FAFSA.  No one asked about credit given for AP classes or what kinds of services are available at the career counseling center, but there were plenty of questions about how the visitation policy in the single-sex dorms would be enforced and who would make sure their child attended Mass every Sunday.  And no one touched the big elephant-in-the-room question about why the campus buildings (all circa 1978) are so ugly that none of them are ever shown in photos of the school.

Next we took a look at Ivy University.  It seems to me that anyone who has a kid even remotely considering applying to an Ivy League school would have their act pretty much together regarding admissions stuff.  Not so.  A parent asked if legacy (children of alumni) applicants get special preference.  If you have to ask that question and you think you will get the real scoop from an admissions officer, you should just move along.  Similarly, the parent who had no idea what “super scoring” your SAT scores meant clearly has not done enough homework to swim with the Ivy U. sharks.  With an acceptance rate of about 8%, these school demand a lot more preparation than that.

Last stop, Selective College.  Just when I think, “Here is a group of visitors who have their act together,” one of the parents drops the Diversity Bomb.  She asks what the school is doing about diversity.  Now, you would have to live under a rock to be unfamiliar with the fact that every college in the country is trying to increase its diversity.  What does she expect to hear from the admissions folks besides, “We’re proud of the gains we have made, but we still have work to do”?  Another pet peeve: people who get into their own private conversations while on the tour, ignore the tour guide, and then ask a question that she just addressed 2 minutes ago.  If you traveled all the way from California to the mid-Atlantic states, isn’t it worth your time to PAY ATTENTION??

And another thing…Why are parents the only ones asking the questions in all of these information sessions and tours?  Helicopter parenting is alive and well.  Mostly the prospective students shuffled around like zombies while Mom and Dad pumped the tour guides for info.  And I thought my homeschooled kids were supposed to be the anti-social ones.  I wonder–at what point do kids suddenly wake up and feel capable of handling their own business?  I’m pretty sure they expect their parents to get their dorm room set up.  Do they also figure Mom and Dad will register them for all their classes, line up their work-study job, and get them into a fraternity, too?  I remember feeling nervous (OK, maybe a little scared) after my parents got me unpacked and then drove away, but I don’t recall feeling helpless.

Well, I need to get back to work to figure out if attending online high school means the student is considered homeschooled for admission purposes and whether the Post 9/11 GI Bill will be de-funded before SuzyQ finishes college.  So many questions; so little time.

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