There is no denying that the world of college admissions has become increasingly competitive over the last two decades.
The statistics each year demonstrate top schools, including the Ivies, are rejecting more applicants each year. Stanford and Harvard rejected almost 97 percent of those who applied, and a large percentage of them had perfect SAT or ACT scores.
Strong grades and great test scores will get you considered. But it is the uniqueness of the applicant’s character that ends up sealing the deal.
The pressure to conform to what colleges are looking for is high for many students in our community, and through that pressure, a lot of their unique individualism gets lost. A private college counselor can often help students rekindle their spark, find the best-fit schools, and highlight their unique strengths in their essays.
The influx of big technology companies in the Pacific Northwest has brought global talent and increased income levels. Consequently, Sammamish has seen tremendous growth in its educated immigrant population. The culture is changing in our schools, and especially at our high schools.
There is also the perception in our community that the most selective colleges are the only “good” colleges we have to offer our children. Thus, children are either being pushed or are self-directing to step up to the challenge of applying to the most selective colleges.
Students are taking an insane number of Advance Placement (AP) courses or International Baccalaureate (IB) track in addition to activities, clubs and community service, all of which have become standard components in a student’s application dossier. The AP coursework and exam participation rate at Eastlake High School was 60% in 2021, which is very high for the state of Washington.
My son, who attended Tesla STEM High School a few years ago, was advised by his school counselor to take five AP classes and a college-in-high-school course during his junior year. Why? Because he would otherwise not stack up well against his peers when colleges look at his transcript and school report.
On the extracurricular front, students are doing research and writing papers with college professors, using their summers to intern at companies like Microsoft and Amazon, and even registering their own companies, often leading them to burn out before they even go to college.
Competition plays an important role in academic achievement because it often spurs students to pursue excellence. However, academic competitiveness can be a disadvantage for students when it leads to fear, anxiety and disappointment, which can eventually lead to chronic stress.
In reality, the frenzied college admissions panic is really only for the country’s 50 to 100 most elite colleges. Many applicants, and their parents, lose sight of this big picture — that there are over 2,200 four-year colleges and universities across the country, and that nationally, the acceptance rate for undergraduates is actually a relaxing 70 percent.
When parents and students have limited access to counseling at school, independent fee-based counselors can help a student do an honest self-analysis and develop a balanced list of colleges to target.
Besides adding variety to the schools list, a counselor can highlight the student’s strengths in essays and offer advice on financial aid. They can also act as a gentle buffer between the parent and child by being the taskmaster during deadlines.
Each counselor brings their personality, philosophy, prior industry experience and unique skills to their practice. Testimonials from prior clients can help narrow the shortlist when choosing a counselor.
Compatibility should be a key consideration. It is essential that you interview a few counselors before you settle on the one that will help your student and family navigate the college admissions process.
Not all independent counselors offer the same services, nor do they provide the same quality. You may come across independent counselors who promote their ability to get students into elite colleges. But truth be told, no counselor has a strategy that automatically unlocks the admissions door.
Enlisting the services of a counselor merely based on their acceptance record to elite colleges will likely bring disappointment if your child does not get the same outcome. Numerous dissimilar factors come into play in the process, from preparing an application dossier to getting a decision from a college. Two students who might otherwise seem to have similar credentials could get very different outcomes.
Moreover, all colleges have their pros and cons. They vary in their lure for any individual student. Even the eight Ivy League universities differ in their mission, core values, strength of academic programs, student body, and campus atmosphere among other factors.
The goal should not be to get into an elite college. It should be to research and discover a range of colleges that best meet your student’s needs.
Anuradha Shenoy is an independent college guidance counselor who teaches a college prep elective – AVID – at Eastlake High School. She also serves as a copy editor for the Sammamish Independent.