Curated by Amy Hammer

As admission colleagues settle behind computer screens and review files for committee, we are provided a glimpse into lives of students across the world. We are given the opportunity to understand the challenges, triumphs, and tribulations of hopeful college graduates. Subsequently, we see through a unique lens of what forces or factors are at play in society and how, in turn, these impact the pursuit of education. There is no single issue that faces higher education today, and our contributors share their thoughts on what they believe has the greatest potential for change considering their positions within higher education.

“Teenagers don’t read anything but Facebook.” “High school students only care about themselves.” The media saturates our newsfeed with negativity about high school students on a regular basis. On any given day, you hear folks lament about the future with these young people poised to take over. Me? I’m not worried at all.

The USF admission team is out en force this month, meeting high school students all around the country for admission appointments. Let me tell you, this has been transformative. I met a student last week interested in computer science – she’s trying to build a device that translates text to Braille because her cousin is blind. I met another student interested in journalism – she worked with her newspaper to bring attention to a houseless community right next to their school. I talked to another student whose passion is technology. He’s worried about connectivity and built an app where gamers can connect with each other to build friendships. He called it “the Tindr for gamers.” High school students give more time to community service than any other peer group. When they talk about it, they talk about perspective.

I talked to students last week and one of them reminded me “April, everyone thinks teenagers don’t care about things, but we do. And we talk about it. But no one hears this.” Another young lady poised a big question to me, “why do we have to answer the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ with a noun? Why can’t it be an adjective?” A student told one of my colleagues he wanted to study sociology because he believes in restorative justice versus retributive justice. High school students, teenagers, are awesome and we give them very little credit for this as a group.

I talked to 56 students last week. A good half of them told me they loved to read but since they’ve been in high school, they haven’t had time. What have we done? We complain that students don’t care enough, they’re not reflective, they don’t read outside of the curriculum, but have we really given them space to do that? If you spend any time with a high school student one on one, they’re thinking big thoughts and they have big concerns, but we’ve crowded their schedules and allowed the frenzy of college admission to cannibalize their time.

We can’t change it all, but we can celebrate these students. I’d love to see college reps and high school counselors really be attitude changers. We know how amazing these students are. It’s time we help everyone else out there know that the world is in good hands. For all the worry and concern, I know we’re all going to be just fine when these young people are in the driver’s seat. In fact, I think they’ll do an ever better job than anyone before them.

The biggest issue within higher education has to be the staggering amount of student debt and rising costs of education.  While many of the potential solutions to this issue are discussed in the halls of power and influence located far from many of our offices, I believe admissions counselors can play a vital role in helping to inform and educate future students and the college going public at large.

While it may be easier to respond with “Talk to the Financial Aid office” whenever a question about money comes up, I think it is the responsibility of every admission counselor to be well-versed in basic financial aid topics and processes.  If we are asking students and families to be better consumers when it comes to college, we should be prepared to be better providers of information, as well.

Joel Ontiveros (1)JOEL ONTIVEROS – UCLA
It is both a blessing and a curse to work for the most applied to university in the nation. On one hand I get to meet and speak with many talented students and see their determination to be accepted into a great college like ours. On the other hand, my office has to send out more emails denying students than accepting them into UCLA. I believe that for many years ahead, more and more universities across the nation will receive an increasing amount of applications from students and thus become more selective each year. While this notion seems a little scary at first, I think it demonstrates that society is doing a good thing to promote an increasing amount of students to pursue college and higher education.

While applicants to universities is on the incline, my worry for how this translates to students and their families is increased stress and levels of disappointment. I think the most important trend that is occurring today is more students are going to college. But what I see at my institution during the time of admission notifications is an increasing amount of students and their families disappointed, saddened, and sometimes infuriated about being denied to selective institutions like ours.

These intense emotions obviously come from a good place. Parents, you obviously love and adore your children and want the best education for them. Students, you have worked tremendously hard both in and outside of the classroom, and you want to see that your hard work has paid off by being accepted to prestigious universities. Heck, by the time my kids are applying to college I’ll certainly be upset if they aren’t admitted to my alma mater! But again, I have to stress the point that it is all about going to college.

I absolutely HATE the emphasis and focus placed on college rankings. Obviously, I was obsessed with it too when applying to colleges and always wanted to attend Stanford University. So I aimed high. I worked diligently in my classes, was involved in a bunch of organizations, and put myself in the best position to be accepted to the best school in the Silicon Valley (which contradicted my Father who attended Santa Clara University). Once I received that denial letter, I obviously was saddened at first, but when I received admission offers from other great universities, I realized that my hard work had still paid off.

My worry for the future of higher education, is that people will continue to cling onto the rankings and numbers. Even a large amount of students today apply to top-tier universities hoping to be accepted because they think this automatically translates into an unprecedented education and overall college experience that will guarantee success in the future. But at the end of the day, how happy or successful a college student is entirely dependent on what they make of their college experience, even at a place like UCLA.

The last thing I will leave you with is a great article I received from a fellow college counselor in the Bay Area (thanks Mark). I believe its messaging affirms the work I do for UCLA, but also sheds light on the importance of students finding their own path when it comes to college success: