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.

January 29, 2010

To Tell or Not to Tell?

Recent postings on the NACAC elist have weighed in on the merits or demerits of posting college admission results in a public place like a bulletin board. At some schools, it’s nobody’s business; at others, it’s a celebration of community spirit. A lot of that seems to depend on the social/economic situation of each school, which makes this activity an interesting barometer of college outlooks at both the school and the individual student level.

For privileged schools, the competition is so intense it’s dangerous to post all acceptances, especially when there’s always the chance of hearing, “Why did Jimmy Smith get into Nirvana U when my Susie didn’t?” and worse. The can of worms here is very large and smelly. Despite what we’d like to think and how we try to present it, privileged families often see college admission as a contest to be won and, even more insidious, as a zero-sum game: If your kid wins, mine loses. (As if not getting into Nirvana means you end up having to attend Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.)

On the other hand, less-privileged schools like charters and others serving low-income and first generation students, are justifiably proud when their students are accepted to post-secondary institutions. They have to work many times harder than privileged schools to bring their students into striking distance of four-year colleges, so a success there is a major event, even if the college isn’t “top tier” or “most competitive.” The point is to have students attend and finish well so they can help create the critical college-going culture schools need. And the challenges aren’t just academic; they have to address social, cultural, and other challenges not as prominent with their better-off peers.

I like to see the map of the U.S. with pins showing where students are when I visit a school. That tells me a lot about how widely the school has asked its students to look, which also tells me that they’ve really encouraged their students to think broadly about what they want. In a low-income school, that can be quite an impressive display (think not only acceptances, but good scholarships, financial aid, and an ability to see the world), providing inspiration for future graduates. It’s a community as well as an individual achievement.

As far as posting acceptance letters (all or just the final one) is concerned, I always feel uncomfortable. It looks like scalp collecting at privileged schools, which promotes the competition we try to tamp down. The “wall of shame” where some students post rejection letters (always a student idea, as far as I can tell) can be cathartic but a better idea to me would be to have a bonfire where students could consign these negative spirits to cleansing flames without having to reveal anything specific. (Maybe they could throw in some of the piles of mail they’ve gotten from colleges over the year as well. I’ve also advocated a collective scream along with all this—an atavistic release of all the tension that’s built up throughout the process.)

Parents and schools at all socio-economic levels can be justifiably proud of their students’ accomplishments. If we’ve done our duty as counselors we’ve also communicated the fact that the importance of the college experience is less about where you go than what you do when you’re there.

A version of this post also appears on Admitted, the blog of the National Association for College Counseling.

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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