I was at a preschool reunion on Sunday that reminded me about how nuts the college admission process is for a fraction of high school students and their families.
The families I am talking about are the kind that you can find featured in the over-hyped documentary Race to Nowhere. Here, by the way, is what I think of that flick: A Race to Nowhere Skeptic andPhoeey: Race to Nowhere
The preschool reunion was more for the adults than my son (a college sophomore) and his former preschool classmates. Quite a few of us have remained friends and our children have done well academically. Two of the children are at Yale and another one will be heading there in the fall. One child will be a freshman at Macalester College, the daughter of the hostess attends Mount Holyoke College, another is an engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and my son goes to Beloit College.
Some of these students attended expensive private high schools in San Diego. The kind of schools where parents are willing to spend $25,000 a year if it increases their children’s chances of getting into Ivy League schools. My son, by the way, went to a charter public high school.
Can These Teen Get Into Any Good Colleges?
A mom, whose daughter will be a high school senior, approached me at the party for advice. She said she was discouraged by her daughter’s college prospects.
The mom shared that her daughter’s GPA wasn’t very good — it was only a 3.8. The mother was also worried that her child’s SAT score would be just as underwhelming. The teenager hasn’t taken the real test, but in practice sessions she’s gotten a 1910 and a 1950. Adding to her worries, the mom told me that her child’s extracurriculars were subpar. She is a classical guitar player, an accomplished fencer and she’s artistic.
Does anybody else see something wrong with the mom’s pessimism? The teenager has an excellent GPA. Most students would kill for a SAT in the 1900 range. And her extracurriculars sound delightful.
The mom is gloomy, however, because she’s been comparing her child to the students at the private high school where many students — or rather many parents — feel their children must go to institutions like Yale or they will be academic failures. And she wasn’t the only parent at the party who confided worry about her child’s academic profile. Since I’m a magnet for college questions, another mom asked me yesterday about her rising high school senior who got a 1890 on the SAT and has earned a 3.25 GPA at a very tough private school.
I attribute part of the anxiety of these parents to the fact that the top brand name schools that they know about — typically on the West and East Coasts — do reject most students. But that still leaves a universe of more than 2,000 colleges and universities to select from.
I told both moms that their children enjoyed lots of college choices. I also explained that more than 70% of high school seniors end up getting in to their first choice school. By the end of the party they seemed much more relaxed.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of Shrinking the Cost of College, a workbook available on her website. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. On Twitter follow her @CollegeBlogs.