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College Applications

A Little More Conversation Is Action

Picture of Arun Ponnusamy
By Arun Ponnusamy on October, 21 2020 | 6 minute read

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Admission officers and college counselors of a certain age—myself included—love to regale/terrify high school students with tales of how quaint yet laborious applying to college was when we were wee teens in the 80s. Usually, it involves details of carefully rolling paper applications into typewriters and every single mistake requiring five minutes for the Wite-Out Quick Dry Correction Fluid to do its magic. Few seniors applied to a dozen or more colleges simply because few seniors had the monk-like patience necessary to do so. (Besides, who was reeeally going to tackle another app when it meant giving up a night of Family Ties or Miami Vice?!?)

So while we’ve spent the past couple of months at Collegewise preaching how little the admissions process has truly changed in light of the various pandemics gripping America, for the parents of high school students, it undoubtedly has since they last tackled college apps in earnest. We recognize that reality at Collegewise every time we’re out speaking to parents at high schools (or Zooming in from our living rooms these days) and sharing out advice on how to support your child through the admissions process.

So, where to start? Well, in addition to the resources of your school counselor and those Collegewise offers, my latest recommendation is a new book, The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education, by Eric J. Furda, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jacques Steinberg, former education writer at The New York Times and author of The Gatekeepers which offers a transcendent view into the inner workings of selective admissions.


*** This is a good time to interrupt my own post to note that Jacques will be joining Melissa Korn, education writer at The Wall Street Journal and author of the always gripping and sometimes mind-boggling Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal, for a conversation with me on Monday, October 26th at 4 pm PT / 7 pm ET as part of our two-evening Collegewise/StriveScan virtual college fair featuring over 150 schools each night as well as cool breakout sessions with cool speakers. The entire program is free, and we hope you’ll join us. Register here. ***


The College Conversation is correct when it pitches itself as a practical companion, but it’s a philosophical one, too. The advice it shares with parents is not purely prescriptive; it often gets down to the essence of why and whether college matters, thus making it perfect not only for the parents of seniors—but for those of younger students. Also, college counselors and other educators will love the framing devices employed. (And remarkably, for a book published just last month, it’s mindful of the changes COVID-19 has wrought.)

It’s framed around “conversations” for parents to have with their children as they make decisions. There is a focus on the 5 C’s: Culture, Curriculum, Community, Conclusions—and, yes, Cost. I’ve long recommended that well-meaning but, um, overeager parents check out the wonderful resources of the Making Caring Common Project from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. In particular, Red Flags for Parents—Are You Putting Too Much Pressure on Your Child During the College Admission Process?, which is rich with how not to speak with a child applying to college. The College Conversation is the mirror of that in it is advice on how adults should speak with students about essential college considerations.

Perhaps the part I loved most is that college is not seen as a given, a mere ritual in transitioning from Childhood to Adulthood; reflection is not only encouraged but seen as essential. I also appreciated the fact that while there’s plenty of talk of selective universities (I mean, one of the authors is the dean of admissions at an Ivy League school), there’s also talk about community college and even MOOCs and Uncollege.

Yes, you’ll get plenty of pragmatic advice on essays and testing, but arguably more valuable are the suggestions which encourage a broader view of the process. We’ve long believed at Collegewise that filling out the Common App is not about mere mechanical execution. It’s an exercise in thoughtful storytelling. (Shoot, every year we write a 70-page guide putting exactly that view into words.) So, I’m delighted to see that echoed by the authors when they say, “See the application as a mosaic, a work of art in which small pieces of various materials are arranged to form a grander pattern of the picture. The emerging figure is your child.”

My Collegewise colleagues Casey (Executive Director of College Counseling) and Kevin (founder) often speak clearly and compellingly to the power of keeping your focus on what you can control. Eric and Jacques do the same here when they write, “It may be small comfort, but remember that this process is not predictable, and it should never be viewed as a report card on your parenting or your child’s self-worth. Whatever judgments are made in the admissions process are ultimately subjective and human.” And if we’ve learned anything through the trials and tribulations of 2020, small comforts can and will go a long, long way. Now, if I could only find Knight Rider on Netflix…

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About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.


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