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At the National College Fair in San Francisco last weekend, I was reminded of the collegiality and ongoing cycle of our work. Moving from table to table, high school counselors commented on their seniors who had just committed to the colleges, excited for their future. Juniors and their parents were discovering new opportunities to explore. Admissions representatives used the time between student inquiries to share about their experiences on the road.

As professionals who operate in the spirit of good will, we still have much work to do together to tackle some troubling issues. The increasing anxiety and gamesmanship around admission to the most selective colleges takes a toll on the mental health of our high school students.  Many students are taking too many AP classes and taking on too many activities at the expense of the important developmental task of identity development. They are sleep deprived and going through the motions. They arrive on college campuses in need of costly mental health services and are at risk of graduating without discovering genuine interests.  Cheating is epidemic on high school and college campuses.  From the perspective of the high school student and his or her parents, this is the only path to success in life.

On the high school side, we can advocate for limiting AP classes and counsel good sleep hygiene and careful choice of school activities. We can require students to read about a broader range of colleges. Parents will not listen unless the colleges provide us with direct support. What if colleges agreed to consider a maximum of three AP classes each year in their academic rigor rubric?  What if there were fewer spaces on the application for listing activities and students were directed to list only the activities that were most important to them? What if colleges emphasized outcomes for their graduates and agreed to not comment on rankings in their recruiting materials? While I am constructing my ideal world, could the common application limit students to a dozen colleges and not institute the “where else are you applying” question?

There will be a gathering of outstanding, committed professionals at the Super Conference in Reno later this month. What new ideas might result from those hallway conversations?

By Peggy Hock