College Access Counseling

My firm, College Access Counseling, Ltd., works with adults and organizations who counsel and support first-generation and minority students on the way to college. I teach the ins and outs of the college process, helping them build social and cultural capital for their students. Click here for more information. I also write for NACAC's blog, Admitted. You can read my entries as well as some of my colleagues', here. Click here to read one of my entries in the New York Times's blog, The Choice.

November 21, 2007

Timing Might Be Everything

Last week I noticed that Christmas trees had already replaced pumpkins in various corner sales lots around Chicago, where I live. Barely two weeks after Halloween, Christmas isn't just on the horizon, it seems to be here already, and I'm already tired of it. The special quality of the Christmas season has been diluted to such an extent that it makes little difference whether you pay attention to it or not. I wonder who's buying those freshly cut trees now? Won't they be just brown needles by December 25th? One of our radio stations here has been playing holiday music around the clock since Nov. 2 and the Chicago Tribune reports today that "Black Friday, typically the busiest shopping day of the year, is losing its sway as the bellwether of the holiday season. [The] day after Thanksgiving is losing some of its sizzle as stores race to be first with Black Friday-style bargains weeks before ahead of the big day..." For those of us who feel that even the day after Thanksgiving is too soon to think about Christmas, this is one more sad development in the commercialization and commodification of a perfectly decent holiday.

The same is true with our national elections, which will have lasted almost two years by the time of the actual election, and which have been characterized by states' moving their primaries earlier and earlier in order to maximize their supposed influence on the results. I'm sick of the candidates already and wondering why they aren't doing the jobs we elected them to do instead of running around the country pandering to the people they will eventually betray. And we have our students and their parents feeling more and more that if they don't get into the college race earlier and earlier, it'll be all over before they've had a chance to fill out the first application. Harvard's elimination of its early plan hasn't inspired a trend, mostly because other colleges can't afford to lose their early numbers, which is fine. Nevertheless, stories about how even so-called "second-tier" schools are now more competitive than ever (despite that story's being at least 10 years old) seem to indicate a growing panic that is also marked by the game's beginning earlier and earlier.

It's fine to plan and think ahead, and it's fine to have some goals in mind as a student begins high school, but the rising panic to get the process started makes actually doing one's homework seem too much of an obstacle to college. It's too slow!!! It all takes too long!! Other people will get my spot!! My kid will be left out in the cold!! Days when seriously starting the college process didn't begin until senior year are long gone, at least for students intent on the name brand colleges. And the idea of taking applications casually or at least as an integrated part of the end of high school are also vanishing. (Why else are there college counselors?) So the college application season, like the Christmas season, has become not only a sadly attenuated slog but also a mechanistic performance drained of its meaning or significance.

I salute those students and parents who can resist the pressures to apply somewhere before they're ready ("I want to apply somewhere ED but I don't know where yet"), and who have the imagination and creativity to look beyond brand name schools. I salute those who won't be stampeded by marketing into making decisions that may not be right for them. I rejoice when a student says to me, "I know I can be happy just about anywhere; I just want to find a college that's right for me." Now that's the spirit!

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Blog Archive

Books About College, Teens, and American Culture

  • A History of American Higher Education
  • A Hope in the Unseen
  • Admission
  • Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic
  • African Americans and College Choice
  • Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture
  • Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
  • Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers
  • Campus Life
  • Class
  • College Access & Opportunity Guide
  • College Admissions and the Public Interest
  • College Admissions Together: It Takes a Family
  • College Gold: The Step by Step Guide for Paying for College
  • College Knowledge: What It Really Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready
  • College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy
  • Colleges that Change Lives
  • Consumed
  • Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing
  • Doing School: How We are Creating a Generation of Stressed-out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students
  • First in the Family
  • Fiske Guide to Colleges
  • Going to College: How Social, Economic, and Educational Factors Influence the Decisions Students Make
  • Harvard, Schmarvard
  • Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private & Social Benefits of Higher Education
  • Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood
  • I Am Charlotte Simmons
  • Increasing Access to College:
  • Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admission and Beyond
  • Leveling the Playing Field: Justice, Politics, and College Admissions
  • Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered America
  • Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams
  • Looking Beyond the Ivy League
  • Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions
  • Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class
  • Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
  • Race and Class Matters at an Elite College
  • Rescuing Your Teenager From Depression
  • Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education
  • Sophomore Guide to College & Career: Preparing for life After High School
  • Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It
  • Status Anxiety
  • Taking Time Off
  • Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education
  • The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy
  • The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive & Reconnect with Their Fathers
  • The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools
  • The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton
  • The Culture of Narcissism
  • The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College
  • The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in American Life
  • The Little College Handbook: A First Generation's Guide to Getting in and Staying In
  • The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College
  • The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfull a Dream
  • The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life
  • The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates
  • The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids
  • The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager
  • The Secret Lives of Overachievers
  • The Unintended Consequences of High Stakes Testing
  • Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens