Monday, September 27, 2010

Expectations: For Both of Us

Next week, I head to St. Louis, MO for our professional association’s national conference. NACAC as it’s called, or the National Association for College Admissions Counseling is comprised of high school counselors, college admissions professionals and others involved in the transition from high school to college. Its members are “committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process”.

I mention that because many families don’t realize there are a set of professional guidelines that govern the work of colleges and universities in the recruitment, admissions, and financial aid processes. They provide rules and best practices for educators but also lay out expectations for students and parents, too. These guidelines are important and are intended to make sure the process is transparent, keeping the best interest of the student in mind.

As we start the admissions cycle together, I thought it would be helpful to go over a couple of these guidelines and help you understand what you can expect from our profession, but also from the University of San Diego. In addition, I’d like to offer a few suggestions about what you and your family can do to ensure that the next nine months or so are as productive, stress free, and successful as possible (including this week’s take-away!).

When you read most of the popular media and the stories surrounding the admissions process you can come away feeling as if it is shrouded in secrecy. I googled “college admissions advice” and got 561,000 results! Web sites named,, and, imply that somewhere, if you look hard enough, you’ll find all the secrets. (And by the way, I do not even remotely endorse any of those sites – I didn’t even open them up.) The fact is, there aren’t any secrets.

The practices outlined by NACAC and other organizations are in large part intended to demystify the process. For example, colleges and universities are bound to provide up-to-date information on our admissions requirements, costs, graduation rates, campus safety, programs offered, and a whole host of other statistics. These are found on our web sites and in our promotional material. The notion that some web site is going to have “all the inside scoop” is just plain wrong.

On the other side of that, however, is the student and family responsibility to know as much as possible about the schools they are considering. One of the reasons many families feel uncertainty is that they can become overwhelmed with all the information out there. That’s understandable – I just went through this process as a parent with my oldest son and even though I have done this for a living for the past 25 years, it was confusing keeping all the dates and deadlines straight. But like anything else, being organized and methodical in your college search will help. Keeping a notebook, or having a separate folder (electronic or paper) for each school will keep all that information organized.

Way beyond simply providing lots of information though, when your son or daughter begins making their list of schools, you should take advantage of the admissions professionals at those schools to provide assistance and answer all the questions you may have. Here at USD, every prospective student, whether they have applied yet or not, is assigned an admissions counselor. They are here to walk you through the process, provide details about admission requirements, scholarship opportunities and other information. If you haven’t yet been introduced to your counselor, you can visit our web site and find out who is your resource throughout the next several months.

The other resource you should absolutely draw upon is the expertise of your high school guidance counselor. They know from experience what many colleges are looking for, they can help identify a good “fit” for your son or daughter, and they can also help you understand their chances of being admitted based on other students from the school who may have applied and been accepted.

Your counselors and the admissions staff are here to help, but no matter where you seek advice, no admissions office or other professional should disparage any other school, or guarantee admissions or financial aid. The Statement of Principles and Good Practices also sets standards for deadlines, the most important of which is May 1 – the National Candidate Reply Date. This is in place so that colleges don’t apply undo pressure on families to pay their commitment deposit before they have had a chance to review all their admission and financial aid offers. The entire set of NACAC’s guidelines can be found at

On that same web site you will find the Student’s Rights and Responsibilities. These are intended to ensure that you and your student know what to expect and can be informed consumers of all this information. There are certain behaviors students are expected to follow as well, such as only depositing at one institution and of course, being truthful in completing the applications for admissions and financial aid.

This brings me to my last point and my take away for this week. Parents, before you go any further in this process, you should make it clear to your student – and to yourself – that THEY MUST OWN THIS PROCESS. You are there to help, as are the high school counselor, teachers and admissions officers. But in the end, it is the student who has to buy in to the final decision, and to do that – really, really, do that – they have to be the one to take responsibility for owning the process. That means THEY finalize the list of where to apply, THEY complete the application, THEY write the essay and decide which teachers to write their recommendations, and THEY keep track of the deadlines and requirements. Of course you can help, and should help, but part of this process is to begin – or continue – the transition from high school senior to young adult. That transition requires a certain amount of independence and responsibility.

My son and I had this conversation early on, and we made it clear that he needed to come up with a plan. I was going to help him in any way I could – provide information, help him research, arrange visits, be there to talk things through – but at the end of the day, he was the one going off to college and he had to live with the decision for the next four years. It had to be right for him.

It took awhile for him to get going on this ownership thing. I put a lot of sticky note reminders on his computer screen and sent more than a couple of texts reminding him of things that were coming up, but he eventually did take ownership. I helped him with his application, listened as he kicked around ideas about his essay, and of course paid for the application fees, but as the months passed, he took on the responsibility. Ultimately, we talked through his choices and the places he was admitted and one day, he confidently announced where he was going (which took both his Mom and me a bit by surprise). He never looked back and is very happy.

As I said in my last posting, this will all work out. It will work out a lot better when everyone involved understands both their rights and their responsibilities in the process.

In addition to using the comments feature, feel free to let me know your thoughts at

1 comment:

Elena said...

Great article. I think finding the best college for you is extremely important and not easy! A great resource I have found is Erin Avery She stresses how choosing a college should be like a self-learning journey. I think it is great that you and your wife were there for your son during the process - which is always very important. Good luck!