About two years ago before an improv show, my troupe and I noticed that the audience was looking rather light for a Friday night. It was a heavy rain outside and people were opting to stay home. With a small crowd that night one of my troupe mates said, “let’s run a little experiment.” We followed his lead and walked to the back of the theater and followed him to taking seats in the audience like paid attendees. Then after two minutes he started complaining about the lack of a troupe on the stage. We all then knew where he was going with this and started to “complain” about the lack of a troupe on stage. And then he said “I bet we can do a good show on our own” and followed him on stage, pretending to be audience members who took the performance into our own hands. It didn’t take long for the audience to figure out the bit, and it really helped in warming up the crowd on an otherwise light night. All because we followed his idea to “run a little experiment.”
Obviously there’s a lot that is different this year. One of the great experiments we’re seeing when it comes to college counseling, in my opinion, is the absence of tests. Though loathed by many of us in this field, it did provide some guideposts for students in making their lists.
Many of us, myself included, have long argued for a decreased importance of these tests. It varies person to person whether we want to see them totally abolished or just used to a smaller degree, but I think most of us in this industry who are truly student focused are happy to see the number of colleges going optional and blind. We’d love to see more permanent announcements beyond this year, but you have to start somewhere.
We know our students need to get away from this testing FOMO (fear of missing out). Despite the amount of wording out there from colleges about being test optional and NOT wanting to see students endanger themselves in taking tests, we hear stories about students travelling hundreds of miles to take a test across state lines. The insistence from College Board and ACT to keep offering tests against all common sense doesn’t help. I even received emails from the ACT offering me a proctoring job two straight Saturdays at a hotel ballroom as they try to find some location that is open. Perhaps if they threw in a stay in a suite with a jacuzzi the night before I would have been more open to the idea.
As happy as I am to see the change, I feel the need to make a confession. This year’s experiment isn’t just about how colleges will handle the lack of test scores from applicants, but it’s an experiment for me and how I counsel students also. I never realized how much I relied on these tests in the past, despite my disdain for the pressure they put on students and the doors they close. (I also acknowledge that there is a small group of students every year who have a door open because of the SAT and ACT, but data seems to suggest more students have doors closed than opened.)
Humans are creatures of habit and I’m no different. I had become so dependent upon our Naviance scattergrams and the combo of that GPA and test score data in helping students as they began asking about how realistic the options on their list would be. While we would all love more warning on any changes, I love the fact that I’ve been forced to move beyond my comfort zone and shed my old habits without a safety net.
I have really enjoyed the fact that my conversations with students have been able to get into much more meaningful dialogue and assessment of the schools together. With one less number that immediately makes a school more or less likely for a student, we’ve been able to dig in deeper on admitted student profiles together, discussing the types of AP’s they’ve taken and why, and what information they plan to share with the school on an essay. Things that give insight into why a student is attracted to a particular school in the first place, or was it there because of outside pressure.
The first wave of Early Action and Early Decisions applications have been submitted, but of course we still have some time to wait before we start hearing results. So we won’t truly know for some time what the results of this experiment of this year look like. But I am excited to see how it goes for our students, and I strongly encourage you all to look at this year as an opportunity to “run the experiment.”
Yes, change can be stressful, but this is an opportunity for us all to self check what areas of our role we may have become complacent in, and to discover more meaningful ways of engagement. I urge you to embrace what your experiment is in adjusting the way we counsel our students as the parameters change around them. Otherwise you just find yourself sitting in a jacuzzi suite with the test makers.