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determined applicants talk, test, write, play, paint—whatever it
took—their way into the college of their dreams.
I was mildly skeptical. In my experience, the first thing
a college counselor will tell you is to
stop saying “we” when talking about
your child’s college applications. “These
are not our applications; they are hers.
We are not applying to college; she is.”
Right. Just like she’s paying the $40,000
it costs to attend a private college
for one year, or—if we were to be so
lucky—the $10,000 to $15,000 it would
cost to stay in-state.
Setting aside my doubts, I called
David’s friend in New York. Her
receptionist said the woman was too
swamped to get on the phone and
say hello—business was that good. But not to worry. They
would send me to their new Los Angeles office where I could
customize a program for Kate. And the cost? Not to worry.
I don’t know why I wasn’t more surprised when the list
arrived and I saw the prices. I just assumed $28,000 was a
typographical error. When I called the receptionist back,
she said not to worry; we didn’t need all the services in the
$28,000 package. We could probably get by with something
more modest, say, in the $17,000 or $18,000 range.
I told her I thought $1,700 was too much, that $170 was
closer to what I was thinking. This time she didn’t tell me not
to worry. “You get what you pay for,” she said.
I tried again with a college counselor who made house
calls for $170 an hour. Her first suggestion was a college on
board a ship. We reminded her of my daughter’s desires—a
small liberal arts college on the east coast. The woman moved
on land, but she wasn’t any more helpful. She came up with a
list of 75 or so colleges that would be “perfect” for Kate, forgot
to leave it with us, and that was the end of her.
We were on our own again. Kate was interviewing with
college representatives who were visiting her school from
all over the country. Marshall and I were organizing trips
with our daughter to prospective campuses in the east and
midwest. Who needs experts?
By now, I was well versed in the admissions strategy most
often touted by private counselors. It went like this:
First, pick three target schools. Those are the ones
that should accept your child because her grades and test
scores match those of the students who are already there.
(The operative word is “should.” Remember, there are no
guarantees in this business.)
Next, pick three “reach” schools, where your child’s test
scores and grades look competitive but really aren’t because
there are so many applicants with similar qualifications.
Usually reach schools aren’t any better than target schools but
for some reason have more cache.
(Note: Don’t confuse reach schools with beyond-reach
schools. Most beyond-reach schools come with full bragging
rights, which makes them difficult to evaluate, but not
necessarily the right choice even if your child got in, which
odds are she won’t.)
Update
The College of Her Choice
August 2007
T
he college admissions process would have been well
worth all the trouble if our daughter had ended up happy with
her choice, but she wasn’t. She liked the professors at Connecticut
College, and her classes were interesting, but a small college in a small
New England town was far too provincial for a public school graduate
fromLos Angeles who
had spent her summers
studying art and languages
in Paris andMadrid.
The admissions
brochures she had gotten,
and the campus tour with
the charming student from
Thailand, had made her
think she would be living
with students from around
the world. Instead, she was
assigned a dorm roomnext
to a bunch of boisterous,
inebriated New England
party boys. Officials offered
to move her to a quieter
floor in another dorm.
Instead she decided to move
to another college altogether.
Given how onerous the
admissions process is, it’s
hard to imagine someone
going through it voluntarily
a second time. Yet one out
of five college students do
just that, either because they
are homesick or don’t have
enoughmoney or want a
more prestigious degree
or become interested in a
program that isn’t available
where they are.
The second time around,
our daughter did everything
on her own. Without any help or even any encouragement fromher
parents, she filled out applications, arranged interviews and got test
scores and recommendations sent. She did all of this as a full-time
student and without any of her mother’s meddling. She was accepted
at Brown University, and is about to begin her senior year there as an
honors major in art.
Our other daughter is beginning her junior year at Northwestern.
Her mother had nothing to do with her applications.
—Anne C. Roark
Given how onerous the
admissions process
is, it’s hard to imagine
someone going
through it voluntarily
a second time.Yet
one out of five college
students do just that.
Colleges I’d never heard
of were turning down
60 percent of their
applicants. Competition
at the brand-name
schools had gone
beyond the ridiculous.
A small college in a
small New England town
proved far too provincial
for a public school
graduate from Los
Angeles who had spent
her summers studying
art and languages in
Paris and Madrid.