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.

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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.

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college