By Ed Devine
Are we “Turning the Tide?” Creating lockers full of hope and fairness? Testing for something new? Or just putting lipstick on a pig?
Many enmeshed in the world of college admissions are rightly exclaiming “Our poor junior class! Look at all the new things they will be facing in their college search.” Seismographic shifts in college access are upon us – a new SAT, the Coalition Application, Prior-Prior Year FAFSA reporting, and now the new report called “Turning the Tide” (interestingly also being called the “Harvard Report.”)
While these things are certainly new for their counselors, it’s important to remember, everything in the college search is new to the juniors. So in essence, it’s not a change for them. I would argue, even if they are the youngest of 12 children, this year will be the first time a junior will truly lean into this process. Their fear of the “unknown” is still just that, the same fear as last year and all the years before.
The upcoming changes affect the grown-ups in the world of college access and they should have all the information necessary to appropriately counsel students. Colleges who plan to use the Coalition Application need to take the time to provide up to date training and information to counselors and admissions officers in preparation for the upcoming roll-out. The College Board must ensure that counselors are prepared and ready to help students evaluate their new scores, and admissions officers are prepared to appropriately use the scores in evaluation. The Federal agencies and financial aid offices must ensure that information about Prior Prior Year is readily accessible to families and counselors. And our professional associations must work to provide information and training to our members, and we must continue to advocate for increased access to qualified college counselors. The upcoming changes continue to add complexity to the college process and even further highlight the need for trained counselors in our schools.
Do we need another application system? A redesigned college entrance exam? Who knows. The fact remains that there are changes ahead and we must work to manage these together in order to help our students. It’s their first journey down this path, and ultimately, on the college side, we will make our best educated guesses as to who belongs in our class and how we can fund them. At the end of the day, we have some captured assessment of a student’s history that will guide us to a decision about their future.
It is important to remember that changes in the college process will come and go but the purposeful steps in the process remain constant. (1) A young person is introduced to college process (2) Through self-evaluation and reflection, students assess their background, abilities and aspirations (3) With guidance from professionals, they assemble a meaningful list of colleges to consider (hopefully with awareness to what they learned in the previous step) (4) Students file applications (5) Based on admits, scholarship and aid, they select the college that fits them best.
I think the magic is in steps 2 and 3.
Step 2 – Hats off to the counselors working with students to help guide them on this inward journey. The art of counseling a young person through this time of transition cannot be overstated. Like the ferryman that Sidhartha encounters on his journey of self-discovery, it would be easy to just tell the young person what they need to know, and have them listen and act on the advice. The art of counseling involves helping a young person see their own reflection in the water, and allowing the journey of self-actualization to begin. To arm them for the journey, they need a few things: (a) knowledge of the process (b) encouragement, the carrot to strive for and (c) sensible options.
Step 3 – It is wonderful to visit high schools who now excitedly exclaim the number of different colleges and universities their graduates are attending. I have been to high schools where 100 students in a graduating class will be attending 70 unique colleges in different states, and around the world! Clearly these young college searchers are guided well and are seeking and finding a genuine fit.
I am fortunate that as a regional representative for my college I am able to spend a great deal of time with students and their counselors. I see students at their football games and robotics competitions, and meet their parents at high school plays and informal coffees. The constant student contact keeps my finger on the pulse of what the young people experience through their search, and I thoroughly enjoy being able to spend more quality time with high school counselors to watch and appreciate their amazing work. I know that these interactions greatly impact my work when I am reading a file, interviewing a student, or welcoming a family to my campus. My hope is that more folks in our association will have, or will take, the opportunity to view the process from a perspective on the other side of the desk, or through the lens of a seventeen-year-old. Perhaps then we might have better perspective on how changes in the process impact others, and respond accordingly.
If you haven’t, read the Turning the Tides report. Honor the initiative to introduce humanity from the college side. Understand, these tenants have been part of you on the high school side have been making these points clear in your work. There are no jaw-dropping assertions here, but at least the discussion continues. Another application system, I agree we don’t need, but be confident, our youngsters will show their adaptability to it, and will figure it out – they will probably help us to adapt too.
And realize, in the words of Billy Joel (so excited to see him live in San Diego!) It’s still rock ‘n roll. Follow steps 1-5, adjust to the cosmetic changes, rinse and repeat.