My College Advisor Told Me…(aka How To Stress Out a Family)

I just got off the phone with a parent who got some really bad information from the college counselor where his daughter attends school. This is a “prestigious” school , and the counselor has either lied or has no clue about what he is doing or how  powerful his words, which may have been off-the-cuff, resonate to a 17 year-old and her parents.

Four months ago, this college advisor directed the family to pursue a comprehensive list of 30! (what!) schools to which Monica should apply and/or earn acceptance.  Fast forward to last Friday, where the same counselor basically told the family that she “didn’t have a chance at any of the schools on the list” HE created.  Nothing had changed, except that Monica’s GPA had improved and she had added more volunteer experience to her resume.

The counselor’s words basically undermined years worth of effort.  Monica doesn’t see the point of even applying if she “has no chance.”  The dad, an accomplished professional, confided to me that he has felt sick and has had no sleep since the interaction.  This is justifiable, since he has invested more than $250,000 in tuition for the last  12 years, and now he feels that the school is dismissing his daughter’s needs because she isn’t what-they-consider  Ivy League material.  There may be some truth to his beliefs, as the school is known to publish statistics of Ivy League acceptance rates in all of its school marketing literature.

This kid is talented, and any school would be lucky to accept her and benefit from the gifts she would bring to the campus.  Instead of focusing on grades, standardized tests scores, and AP classes, it is important to remember what drives success in life, and none of those aforementioned items necessarily measures success.  What drives success is perseverance, goal-directed behavior, the ability to self-advocate and adapt, the ability to get along with others, and to meet a deadline effectively and efficiently.  How exactly does school measure this?

Sure, you can point to grades as the outcome of hard work, but I know many a productive researcher, educator, or entrepreneur who didn’t earn a grade commensurate with preparation and effort put into an assessment, particularly if learning and teaching styles didn’t match.   And standardized test scores?  Don’t get me started on this!  These tests measure what a kid knows on one particular day, not a cumulative assessment of knowledge.  Just a data point.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with the college counselor’s  words:  even if the odds are stacked against this kid getting into a college or university (which they’re not),  why would you say that to someone?  Why would you crush someone’s plan?  Why encourage someone to forego attempting to achieve a goal?  It makes no sense!

If I had been the counselor, I would’ve said what I always say to families, “Apply.  All They can do is say no.  And if they say no, don’t take it personally.  You will go to college and be successful if you believe in yourself.”