Essential Information for the College Bound -- Spring 2006

In this issue

Application Process

Article Excerpts


Which School?

You will live with the answer
the rest of your life.

Taking The Next Step
12904 Mizner Way
Wellington, FL 33414
(561) 790-5462
Robin Abedon
web site: TakingThe NextStep

There are two issues relating to the college application process pervading my thoughts at this moment: the pressure on prospective students and their parents as they approach the final year of high school – then wait out the college decisions; and the primacy of the SAT and ACT as a gatekeeper within that process.

The pressure is at its height during the next few weeks for seniors, as the notifications of yea or nay are close at hand. My thoughts are with you, wishing you only yeas.

The SAT, already in the forefront of the minds of all rising seniors, has become headline news with its faulty scoring debacle dating back to the October 2005 test. Reliance on these tests is questionable at best, but highly suspect in the face of this scoring catastrophe. Yet, the scores on these tests are a baseline criteria: for students to use in selecting colleges; and for colleges to use in accepting students.

In this issue of my newsletter, I would like to include excerpts from articles written by two college administrators: the first is by Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions @ MIT, also the mother of a senior in high school; the second is by Joanne V. Creighton, president of Mount Holyoke College. Dean Jones addresses the pressures for prospective students. President Creighton discusses the SAT as a gatekeeper.

  • Article Excerpts
  • From Dean Jones:

    -- My beautiful daughter - the love of my life - is a senior applying to college this year and I am just horrified by the pressures inherent to the admissions process everywhere. Horrified as both a mother and a dean who has dedicated her professional life to education, choosing to leave a life of research science long ago to become a gatekeeper for those who could really make a difference in this world. --

    -- It's actually sickening to me now because as I stand off and observe as a mother, I see how often the message we adults send to young people is that they are not good enough as they are, that if only they were more involved, took more AP courses, cured cancer already, they would make a better applicant. I really feel that my generation has failed you by failing to act like adults, by failing to just tell the truth about what we do and why, by expecting you at your age to be what we still can't be at ours - perfect. --

    -- I want more than anything for my daughter to be admitted everywhere so she will not feel that sting of rejection so familiar to me at my age and level of experience (you don't get to be Dean of Admissions without some bruises along the way), but as a pragmatic dean, I know that she will probably get some rejections because of the laws of probability. After all, you are all at the crest of the huge demographic bubble, applying to many more schools than students used to, so everyone's probability of acceptance goes down. Ugh. Sometimes the truth is so ugly. --

    -- We adults all know that where you go to college does not make your life in America - you make your life through your choices and intentions. This is not cliché -- it is really true. The best people I have ever worked with - the smartest, the most creative, the most resourceful - did not go to Ivy League schools or the MITs of the world. Many went to schools you have never heard of --

    -- I suggest that you see the college admissions process for what it really is - an initiation or rite of passage into adulthood. In an initiation you are saying to the world in a public way, "I am ready to be an adult and I will prove it now".

    Think about it -- through the college admissions process, you are reducing the complexity of your essence and experience to fit a fixed format on a handful of pages, exposing yourself to strangers who will judge you using arcane rules you will never understand, you will be forced to hold your anxiety for many weeks while you are expected to keep up the highest level of performance in school, and then will get the thumbs up or down response in a public way. Sounds like an initiation to me. And it may be the hardest thing you will ever do.

    Odds are that many of you will be rejected somewhere this year (especially if you stretch yourself as the most talented people do) and I assure you, speaking as one who has gone before you, that life will present you with many such rejections. As you walk through them, you'll see that things always turn out for the best in the end. I do believe that when the door closes, the window opens. If you get a rejection this year, feel the hurt, yes, feel it fully to metabolize it, let it move through you and then release it. But then look for that open window. It's always there.

    From President Creighton:


    By now, most of the country has heard of the College Board's gaffe in reporting erroneous SAT scores for about 4,000 college-bound students. A single case in which a college does not accept a qualified student because his or her SAT scores are erroneously reported is clearly an injustice. The potential for 4,000 such cases is a disaster that should prompt all colleges, universities, students and their families to ask serious questions about a college placement system that, through a single computational error, can irrevocably alter a student's educational trajectory.

    High-stakes standardized tests such as the SAT have assumed a central role in the admissions process disproportionate to their value. This test falls far short of predicting academic or career potential or a host of important aptitudes, such as curiosity, motivation, persistence, leadership, creativity, civic engagement and social conscience --

    -- Many colleges and universities — including mine, Mount Holyoke — have deep-sixed the SAT -- We found that reliance on the SAT would lead us to reject students who deserved to be admitted based on their previous accomplishments and who would succeed at our schools.

    To be sure, such a policy change flies in the face of another pernicious numbers game, that of the annual college rankings manufactured by U.S. News & World Report, which relies heavily on SAT scores and other "input" measures (acceptance rate, money spent per student, alumni giving) to supposedly rank institutions for educational quality. Like the SAT, this rankings game is educationally and morally suspect.

    In 2001, Mount Holyoke made the SAT optional for admission. We have been studying the effects of that policy — with a grant from the Mellon Foundation — and the results are striking. So far, we have found no meaningful difference in academic performance between students who did not submit scores and those who did --

    -- Findings like those from our Mellon study are a blow to the test's credibility. But perhaps it will take a second stake in the SAT's heart before students and educators everywhere question the role of this American institution. Grading errors are bound to happen over the course of anyone's education. It's when a single grading error could potentially keep 4,000 high school students from their choice of college that the SAT's harmful effects become all too clear.


    Reflecting on the views of these two essential college leaders may be helpful to you, as it has been for me. There are leaders in the college world who bring insight and compassion to a dialogue on the admissions process which must be continuously evaluated for balance and fairness.

    Please take a minute to read the previously published newsletters: here


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