Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When does the college process begin?

For years I have resisted talking about college with freshmen and sophomores, not to mention middle-school students.  I thought - and still do - that ninth and tenth graders should simply concentrate on being the best fifteen or sixteen year old they can be.  I have given in a little over the years, meeting with freshmen to discuss the importance of getting involved in the extracurricular life of the school and having lunch with sophomores to do an abbreviated college case study; otherwise, our contact is limited, and I've wanted to keep it that way.  Lately, though, I've been wondering if I'm giving my students short shrift, because the reality is, the college process really begins on their first day of high school.

Even as freshmen, the decisions they make during their first year of high school will make a difference.  The courses they choose, the depth of their involvement in activities, whether in or out of school, will have a bearing on where they can apply to college (or rather where they can expect to get in). Academically, they need to get off to a strong start, and if they run into trouble, they need to learn to seek help, ask questions, and/or improve their study skills.  I have to be honest; by the end of a student's sophomore year, her GPA will tell me a lot about where she should apply to college.  Of course, schools will always look for upward trends, but it is unlikely that a student with a 3.0 after two years of high school will be admitted to the more selective colleges, even if her grades do improve.  Yes, there are always exceptions, and certain students may fit a college's targeted population (athletes, minorities, first generation students, legacies).  So don't I have an obligation to make sure students know all of this early in their high school careers?  I think the answer is yes.

My problem, however, is that I also don't want to add to any worries about college that they already have.  Many of our freshmen and sophomores have ideas about which university they want to attend, but I have seen the glazed look in their eyes when I gently let them know that a 3.59, 1300 SAT, and being captain of the soccer tam, not to mention their amazing service work still may not be enough to get them into the school of their dreams.  Do I like it?  Absolutely not.  I do not like what college admissions has become.  I know that there are many other schools out there for our students - schools where they can be wildly successful and happy.  But sometimes that name recognition gets in the way, and they don't want to consider those schools.

So what do I do?  I want my girls to know that it's okay to be who they are.  I want them to be their best selves.  I want them to know that they are good enough...no, even better than that.  I want them to understand that they are more than their GPA or test scores.  They are amazing young women who are in the process of discovering who they are , what they love to do, what they might want to be ten or twenty years from now.  And if they are happy, then I am happy.  Yes, I will make sure they know that even as freshmen, they are building a résumé for college.  But that résumé should be about who they are, not what (they think) a college wants them to be.  

It's kind of like the quote from the movie Field of Dreams:  "If you build it, they will come."  Be who you are, and the right colleges will find you.

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