A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a company that asked me to beta-test their new software. This revolutionary, user-friendly program, they claimed, would dramatically change the way I helped my students choose which schools to apply to. The program would analyze key admissions data to devise an application strategy: increased odds for applying early, a breakout into “likely” and “reach” schools, etc. To top it all off, the results of this complex set of algorithms would be compiled into an organized, professional yet aesthetic manner (I could even use my own logo on the cover sheet!), for me to present to my clients.
They were right.
It was, simply put, really cool. Once I learned how to navigate the program, it only took a few minutes to create a 12-page, comprehensive report on college choices. There were charts, graphs, and other impressive-looking tabulations. Yes, I even put a logo on the cover sheet.
I politely declined their offer for a temporary license, though, for one simple reason. With all the empirical data this program analyzed, from a student’s GPA and test scores to the historic application information from a college, there was one key element missing: the human factor.
As you know, and will hear again and again, this process is not scientific.
There are so many elements that are considered in applications. Of course, the most important factors are GPA and course rigor, but then there are test scores, extracurriculars, essays, recommendations, demonstrated interest, leadership qualities, outstanding or unique talents, legacy, demographics…. and the list continues on. When devising school lists, we will certainly consider all the empirical data, including average test scores, GPA, and even the historic admissions information from Naviance. But we’ll look at other intangible aspects, too, which can play a very significant role.
An admissions officer at a college recently showed me her platform for reviewing applications. It was fascinating, and all came down to this year’s buzzword: “grit.” Does this kid have what it takes to make my university great?
Sure, students are looking for good fits, but colleges are looking for good fits, too. There are no guarantees of admission anywhere, whether you’re a genius, a prodigy, or even a “development” student. We can throw all the numbers and figures into a fancy computer program, but the underlying question is, are you the type of student who fulfills the needs of X University – whatever those needs happen to be in a particular year.
This year, as with every year, there were plenty of expected outcomes, and lots of happy surprises. As I close the well-worn, dog-eared folders on this year’s seniors, I’m thrilled to say that all of my students will be attending one of their top choice schools. How did we accomplish this? There is no secret formula, magical method or surefire equation – just a lot of hard work, persistence, savvy, and even a little bit of luck. As a colleague recently wrote, the college application process is filled with inconsistencies, uncertainties, and sometimes, injustices.
So what’s a kid to do? Very simply, the best he/she can, while being honest and maintaining a good life/work balance. Isn’t that the secret to success in everything, from college admissions to life in general?
As for me, I’m going back to gathering the most current information on this year’s admissions cycle, keeping track of what’s happening in and around the world of admissions, and creating and updating spreadsheets and data on a daily basis. It’s not as simple as inputting some names and numbers, but then again, the aforementioned computer program, in its quest to find “likely” schools, offered a few extraneous suggestions, including religious and single sex schools, as well as schools in undesirable geographic areas (Alaska Pacific University, anyone?). Perhaps one day I’ll find a program that’s worthy, but in the meantime, I’m going to take a cue from my students, work hard, and do my best to show my “grit” for them.
Looking forward to an exciting year together!
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