The Case for Straight Talk

“You will not be accepted to this college.”


Harsh words to hear from your college counselor. Especially one whom you have hired. Harsh, but necessary.

Sometimes, students want to apply to a college to which they have no hopes of gaining admission. (Let me be clear, many students could be successful at every college in the nation if they were able to gain admission. Getting into a college is completely different than being successful at a particular college.) Students could have visited a college as a youngster and developed a fondness for the school over time, regardless of the school’s admission criteria. (This happens quite a bit with schools like Stanford and University of Chicago, Oxford and Cambridge.)

For many students, parents push them to apply to schools in which they have no interest or passion. A school at which they will be unhappy or underwhelmed. Parents may want a “cocktail party” college. (A college whose name and reputation is likely to evoke some admiration or jealousy from other parents.) Parents may want their child at a school which challenges them in a certain way. Parents may want their child at their alma mater. Parents see the commitment of their students and think, “wow, this kid is the whole package! Who wouldn’t want my son or daughter at their school?” Unfortunately, the answer to that question is “Plenty of schools.” I am not saying that your child would not thrive at that school, or contribute, or succeed. I am just stating that your student’s admission profile makes admission highly unlikely.

So why would I say those words to your student?

Because it is my job to make sure that not only does your student have a nice selection of school from which to choose to attend but that they are happy and successful at their choice. When students apply to schools to which there is very little hope in gaining admission, they are missing applying to schools which are much better fits.

Maggie Mae* was a client last year. She had always wanted to go to Vanderbilt. She had visited as a child and fell in love with the campus and Nashville. However, although Maggie Mae was a great student, her scores and her grades did not support admission to “Vandy.” More importantly, Vanderbilt wasn’t the right school for Maggie Mae; it was too big, it was too urban, it was too expensive. Maggie Mae Would spend her $70 application fee in vain, so I told her, “Maggie Mae, you will not get into Vanderbilt.”

At first, she and her parents were upset. I can tell you it’s no fun to step on a dream. However, it is my job to be honest, practical, and knowledgeable.

HONEST: Telling a student they cannot get into a school is tough. Telling them why they didn’t get in after they applied and set their heart on a school is harder. I choose to be proactive. I hope Parents and Students understand the importance of knowing your real chances of admission, and use that information to discover schools which are great fits. For those of you not using a college admissions advisor, take a look at the school’s admissions requirements and prior year’s admitted student demographics- scores, grades, course rigor. (You can find them on certain websites, two or which are the US News and World Report college website (subscription fee) or the Free. Even better, ask what an admitted student’s profile was at the college admissions office during your visit.)

PRACTICAL: For my clients, each application can take upwards of 10-15 hours to complete and costs up to $100. With all of the other activities and commitments these kids have on their plates, spending 10-15 hours on an application which will yield no positive results is a waste of very precious and limited time.

KNOWLEDGEABLE: Maggie Mae loved Vandy’s vibe…so I suggested she look at Sewanee, SMU, UNC, Clemson, Auburn, Wake Forest, and Rice. Each of these schools had some or all of the positive qualities of Vanderbilt. Each of them fell into her spectrum of admission- from reach to likely. Each of them “overlapped” Vanderbilt in some way. Being able to get to the root of the attraction to one school and apply that overlap to discover other better suited schools is my job.

Maggie Mae ended up at the perfect school for her and it wasn’t Vanderbilt. She’s happy with her choice and succeeding. It is never easy to tell someone that a school is beyond their reach, but straight talk is an imperative during the college admissions process. accept reject

Knowing where you have a chance of admission,  where you can afford, and succeed is the heart of a successful admission process.

As always, Student’s names and identities are changed to protect their anonymity. Students get to choose their “nom de plume.”

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