college admissions

My Letter to College Admissions Officers

The recent college admissions scandal has generated lots of discussion. I chose to focus on the point that I know best as a mental health counselor- this process is taking a toll on students’ mental health.

Dear College Admissions Officers:

I write this letter from the perspective of someone who works with lots of high school students and sees how your acceptance process leaves students perplexed at best and suicidal at worst. I started undergrad 18 years ago and sure there were times when I felt frustrated during the process but I still got to be a teenager. In my downtime I’d listen to Jewel’s latest album, go to movies with my friends, and watch Dawson’s Creek. My admissions experience was quite a simple one because of the privilege I was afforded. So why am I concerned?

I am concerned for the mental health of our students. Do you know that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision making, planning, and judgement, starts developing at age twelve and isn’t fully formed until mid-late twenties? The excessive scheduling of sports, music lessons, and tutoring means either a still-functioning teenage brain has to manage that OR a parent steps in. When I was in high school, the “talk” was to find something you’re good at. I liked writing so I did that and I also liked helping people so I volunteered at the hospital after school. Now, it’s simply not good enough to have one thing you’re good at, you must have many. You must be popular but kind, athletic but well-rounded, make good grades but also volunteer and if you’ve already founded your own nonprofit or learned four languages then WOW! Is that picture that I just described really attainable? Where is there time in that picture for self-care? For the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep? For time to connect with friends and family that doesn’t involve a screen? 

I don’t know if you realize this but the competitive nature of college admissions means that students now associate asking for help with failure and struggling with a mental illness as a sign of weakness. When I missed school because I was sick, I’d call up my friend on her land line and asked her if I could I borrow the notes that I missed in class. During 11th grade, two of my closest friends tutored me in calculus because I was so confused. Do you think that same mentality happens now? Sometimes yes, but I think you would be shocked to hear that students don’t share their notes now because “tough luck that person was sick. They should’ve stuck it out like I did.” Can you imagine how it feels to be struggling with depression and feel totally alone because society tells you it’s a weakness? Don’t you think that everyone would benefit if there wasn’t this mentality of “taking away from me in order to give to someone else?” 

Not that you’ve asked but I’d love to offer you some possible essay topics for those applications of yours. 

·     What do you do for self-care?

·     What would you give up for someone else?

·     If a camera crew followed you around all day, would they see that you are the bully, the bullied, or a bystander? If you are a bystander, would they see you stand up for the kid who’s bullied or turn away and act as if nothing happened because it doesn’t affect you directly?

If you ever want to trade places for a day, give me a call. I think you’ll find the issues facing teens today very eye opening.

Summer Reading Recommendation #4

How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims has caught the attention of educators and parents from across the country. Drawing upon her experience as dean of freshmen at Stanford University, she provides insights from both an academic and parental perspective. I could highlight an excerpt from each of her chapters that resonates with me and yet, I'd like to focus on just one- "Have a Wider Mind-Set about Colleges." 

What makes the college admissions process less stressful? Well, I've asked this question to some really experienced college counselors out there and they've all said "a college list is best when it fits you." Lycott-Haims quotes a well-known educator in the college counseling profession who said, "he is concerned by a growing trend among his highly able seniors to make the college process into a game to be won rather than a match to be made." 

I like to use a visualization strategy with some of my students who are struggling with finding a college of best fit. Here it goes: Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking through campus on a Wednesday morning. What does your campus look like? Is it filled with more people than trees or the opposite? Do you hear sounds of birds or sounds of sirens? When you enter your first class that morning, what does the room look like? Is there a round discussion table? A giant lecture hall? When you are done with classes for the day, how do you unwind? Do you grab coffee at a nearby cafe with a friend? Hit the trail to run? Grab a surf board? Later that night, you're feeling down and want to talk to your family. Do you call them? FaceTime with them? Drive over and see them? Do you reach out to your roommate or another friend on your hall instead because of the time difference?

I cannot assess the reliability or validity for my visualization exercise and yet it gets students to think. In particular, the part about their classroom really gets the wheels turning. For some students, they've been used to class sizes of 15 since kindergarten and if the idea of a 300+ lecture hall sounds great, well then some really large universities might provide a nice change of pace. However, if that sounds terrifying looking at smaller schools might be a more realistic route. 

Looking for more tips on finding the right college fit? Check out my free upcoming workshop:

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman