Here Comes the Sun: A Parent’s Perspective on Deny

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This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission for the Mid Atlantic, Kathleen Voss, to the blog. Welcome, Kathleen!

Rick Clark, I actively AVOIDED your previous two blogs about messages for parents of students applying to college.  This was very hard for me to do, as I am huge fan of your blog and a huge fan of you.  This morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and, even with 200 applications sitting in my queue, braced myself and sat down to read all about the mistakes I have made.

You see, recently this whole “parent with a child in the college search” thing has become a real drag… and I want to send it and your blog to a place where the sun doesn’t shine!  I say this with the greatest admiration, respect, and love for you Rick, but on Friday my daughter received her first “deny” from a college.  Now I find myself in uncharted waters. The gate was closed on the gatekeeper’s kid…. and it stinks!

Becoming “That Parent”

As much as I hate to admit it, in that instant I became THAT parent.  I am 100% more disappointed than she is. Before you ask, of course I did not let her see my disappointment. I checked my emotions, took a breath, and said, “It’s their loss.”

While we both anticipated this result (my enrollment manager brain crunched the numbers weeks ago), I could not get it out of my head that this college was a great fit for her. The proximity to home was perfect. She could realistically start on day one as an Admission Office tour guide because she knows so much about the history of the institution.  We have a close relative who is recent graduate and has so much in common with my daughter. I LOVED THAT SCHOOL!

We are in the last lap of this search. DANG IT! Remember your PRONOUNS!!!!  My DAUGHTER is in the last lap of the college search process. SHE is waiting to hear from a few more schools. She seems to be dealing with everything well…. even the deny. She is calm and reasonable. After living with a college admission counselor for 18 years, she seems to have absorbed my trade craft.  She recognizes what she can and cannot control in the process. She feels confident that she put forth the best applications that she could. She spent time on her essays and only asked me to look over her final draft.  She has and continues to work hard in high school, though senioritis is starting to creep in. Sounds like a dream, right?

So why do I feel like I have been hit by a Mack truck?

I’ve had hundreds of conversations with students and parents about the reasons behind Tech’s admission decisions.  I have comforted, counseled, and moved on. I get it…  at least, I should get it. “It’s not you, it’s me.” Rick’s blogs make perfect, reasonable sense. This feels personal– but it’s not.

I hurt for my daughter and this first taste of rejection. And selfishly, it stings for me and my ego.  No, I am not planning to follow anyone into a parking lot to ask “why?” and I won’t be calling our Governor (he clearly has his hands full right now).

But there is value in seeing both sides of the same coin.

Another Challenging Year 

It has been an incredibly challenging year for our admission staff.  A fair number of us in the office have kids who are juniors and seniors in high school.  We all read applications from students who remind us of our own: a shared birthday or hobby, similar family dynamics, the same senior schedule, a common class that was especially difficult. When we open these files, we can’t help but think, “I sure hope the admission counselor at XYZ University is REALLY looking at all of my child’s amazing qualities.  I hope they aren’t too tired, and they really READ her essay, recommendations, and activities.”

While we face every year with professionalism and rapt attention, this year, we senior parents have been laser focused on ALL those holistic points, searching for answers, double checking our work, and willing our colleagues at other schools to do the same for our kids.

Add to this seeing so many young people being put through the absolute wringer during Covid.  I have read more essays about trauma, grief, depression, and anxiety in the past four months than I have in my entire 29-year career.  It has been heart breaking. The respect I have always had for my colleagues in school and college counseling offices across the nation has increased 1,000-fold. If we are seeing this volume of stress in applications, I can only imagine how it must impact their daily lives.  Then we add having to deny applicants during an already really challenging time.

But we do it. We must. We have over 50,000 applications. We will deny more than half of them. And by the way, that half is amazing, like my daughter, which makes it all the harder. Supply and demand. Mission driving admission. All valid and logical, but this year especially, it is a part of the job that just sucks.

It WILL Be Okay

If you know me, you know I am a positive person, and there is no way that I can write a blog that starts with me being insubordinate to my incredible boss and ends with me almost swearing. So, let me end on a high note: to the parents reading this, it will be okay.  Whether your child was denied at YOUR first-choice college, or THEIR first choice, it will be okay.  It has been a joyful, emotional, and eye-opening ride and I have newfound perspective and patience.

As the end of this amazing college search is in sight for my family, I’d like to recognize and give gratitude to the following.

West Virginia University, you were the first school to admit my daughter.  I can still see the excitement on her face when she opened that email. We sang “Country Roads” at the top of our lungs. I am so impressed by your communications. They are warm, welcoming, and positive!  You seem to intuitively know the questions that we have at any given time.

Providence College, you hosted a FANTASTIC open house. I know how much work went into that event and you did it with grace and style…. and SNACKS!  You made my daughter feel welcomed and comfortable from the start.

Barry at Pitt, in the middle of a record-breaking season, you took the time to reach out to me and answer my questions. I am grateful to you and can’t wait to sit on a panel together IN PERSON once again.

University of Rhode Island, thank you for recognizing my child’s talent and success.  I whole heartedly agree with your assessment of her!

Eli Clarke I am grateful to you for your wisdom, friendship, and support and for your amazing Tik Tok @mr.c_collegecounselor, which offered my daughter and so many others exceptional advice throughout the process.

WHS Counseling Staff, I don’t know how you do it. This has been such a wild and intense year for you. Somehow you have managed to balance crisis management, mask wars, and 1,000 other things you do in a day and still make yourselves available to help students with their college search questions. I SEE YOU!

Rick Clark, for your great insight, which, even in the throes of disappointment, is calming and rational and brings us back to earth.  Maybe we could just forget that I wanted to stick your blog in a sunless place?

Kathleen Voss has worked in college admission for over 25 years. She joined the Georgia Tech Office of Undergraduate Admission in 2013 as the Institute’s first Regional Director of Admission. Prior to Tech, Kathleen worked regionally for Manhattan College and as the Associate Director of Admission for Regis College in Massachusetts. She is a member of PCACAC and serves on the Admission Practices Committee. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters and volunteering in her community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three (MORE) Messages Parents of High School Students Need to Hear About College Admission

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…and we’re back. As mentioned in Part I, I decided to write these two blogs specifically for my friends, neighbors, and other adults in my life who now have kids in high school or considering college. As such you are welcome to read and consider, read and ignore, or not read but still forward or share.

  1.  The admissions essay. First, not all colleges require students to write an essay or respond to short answer questions on their application. Those who do include writing as an opportunity for students to bring voice and personalization to an otherwise heavily box, number, and line- filled application. In reading essays, admission reviewers simply want to get a sense of students’ ability to express themselves or provide insight into their character, background, motivations, and so on. As a result, essays matter. Nobody adds questions or prompts to their application just to make it longer. We read. We share. We glean insight from student writing.

However, just as much as a comma splice or failure to underline the name of a book in an essay is not going to keep a student from being admitted, the essay in general is not going to be the thing that “gets your kid in.” Anyone who tells you otherwise: a) has never worked on a college campus b) has a vested (usually monetary) interest in convincing you otherwise c) that’s it. There is no C—other than their pulse on college admission. Is it wise to have someone look over an essay for feedback? Absolutely. Should students put thought, effort, and care into their writing for colleges? Undoubtedly. But as a parent or a supporting adult please do not edit out your kids’ voice/style, or pressure them to write about something they don’t genuinely value or believe has been impactful to them, because in doing so you rob the application of the very qualities we are hoping to see in their writing. More here. Bottom line: Essays are not the magic bullet/Hail Mary/death nail/Lazarus factor people believe them to be.

 2. High School/Club Sports vs. College Athletics. Too many conversations leap from “my kid is talented in (insert sport here)” to they’re going to play in college and “get a full ride scholarship.” Consider this: fewer than two- percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships, and most of those only cover a percentage of tuition, housing, meals, books, fees, and so on.

As your athlete has success at higher and more competitive levels, it is exciting to imagine them playing in bigger stadiums, in front of more people, or even on TV. My hope is you will focus more on the day to day and week to week of supporting, encouraging, and enjoying watching your athlete play club and high school sports, than speculating about or assuming where it may lead. Keep saving for college. Keep pushing your student to excel in the classroom. Be proud of them for who they are and what they’ve accomplished– and be sure they know it. In other words, don’t convince yourself there is an inverse correlation between the number of trophies or media coverage and the number of dollars you will be spending on college. It may play out that way, but in the overwhelming number of cases, it won’t. Dream killer or friend? You decide. Stay grounded, stay humble, and stay focused on being able to finance a college degree without dependence on a full athletic scholarship.

3. Quality of institution is not correlated with admit rate, ranking, or any other singular number or metric.

Whether it be an effort to simplify, ego, or buying into the false narrative around selectivity and rankings, parents and supporting adults too often reduce a student’s options, limit their perspective, and curb their ability to explore based on numbers.

Admit rate: When I arrived at Tech, we were admitting well over 60% of applicants. Just a few years ago we sat around 40%. This year’s class will see an admit rate below 20%. Are the students significantly smarter, more talented, or more destined for future success? Absolutely not. Students we admitted at 60% are running companies now and sitting on boards of major organizations. I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of how different colleges count differently on apps received or admits issued, but the bottom line is selectivity level is not a proxy for academic quality. Most colleges in the country admit more students than they deny. If the best match for your student has an admit rate that is 20 points higher than another one they are admitted to, don’t let your ego or a false narrative cloud your judgment.

Ranking: The students at Tech who are currently sophomores applied here when we were ranked number five in the nation for public universities. Within a month of enrolling here, we’d dropped to number eight, and this year we are number 10. I’ve yet to see a student transfer because of this change—because nothing has changed. Same great students, important research, and valuable network/job opportunities. I  urge you to not draw firm (arguably arbitrary) lines, whether it be at number 10, 50, or 100. College is a big decision. College is expensive. College cannot be reduced to one number. Don’t fall into that trap. And for the love of all things holy, friends, if you are going to ascribe any value to a singular number or deem it an authoritative signpost, examine the methodology and ask yourself if your values are in line with their calculations.

In most cases, leading or pushing your student to limit or dictate their choice of where to apply or attend based on one number (or even small set of numbers) is short-sighted bordering on irresponsible.

Since there won’t be a part three to this series, let’s conclude this way. I know it’s challenging supporting your student through high school, and particularly through the college experience. So, while I do hope you will legitimately consider everything I have shared in this blog and the one prior, I also want to sincerely thank you.

First day of school
editorial cartoon

Thank you for loving your kids.

Thank you for advocating for them.

Thank you for wanting them to have a better life and more opportunities and experiences than you have had.

Thank you for encouraging them and supporting them, even when they drive you nuts, roll their eyes, mumble one-syllable responses, or keep you up late at night worrying.

Thank you for washing the same dishes and clothes a thousand times.

Thank you for driving to and from practice and sitting through hours of swim meets or dance or music performances (just to hear or see your child perform for a fraction of that time).

Do I wish you wouldn’t disguise your voice in order to procure your daughter’s admission portal password? Sure.

Would admission officers prefer to come in the morning after releasing admission decisions, get a cup of coffee, and check the scores from the night before, rather than having parents outside (or in the parking lot) wanting to appeal or provide 13 additional recommendation letters? Yep.

Do I enjoy having my competence, intelligence, or soul brought into question based on an admission decision? Not particularly.

Nevertheless, as the parent of two kids, I get it. The truth is you are doing what you always have–loving them, protecting them, and providing for them. And since you absolutely do not hear this enough– THANK YOU!

Got friends who won’t read 1200 words on this topic, but still may benefit from hearing these messages– pass them this Twitter thread.