What Formulas Do You Need To Know For The Sat Five Tips To Ease College Application Panic

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Five Tips To Ease College Application Panic

I recently returned to my old high school to follow students throughout the college application process for a book about the pressures on today’s students (and parents) to succeed. What I found there mirrored what I saw in schools across the country, from Vermont to New Mexico: widespread panic about admissions. After speaking with hundreds of students, parents, admissions officers, and counselors, I’ve compiled a few tips to help families navigate this often stressful time.

1. Ignore “Ranking”

Several publications claim to rank colleges in exact order each year, lists that often influence students’ application decisions. These listings are fictitious. Rankings are fixed from their inception; when US News’ first ranking algorithm ranked a school that wasn’t Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, the magazine left the formula (which rewarded diversity) and the statistician who created it. The factors many publications use today to rank schools may not reflect the actual undergraduate experience—many colleges fudge their data anyway.

2. Don’t talk

Often, students and parents are satisfied with their grades, SAT scores, and college application lists. . . until they talk to other students and parents and find themselves playing the comparison game. Several students told me that they chose not to apply to a certain school they loved because it wouldn’t sound impressive if other people asked where they were applying or going to college. Not talking about your stats or your children’s and not asking about others takes a huge weight off your shoulders.

3. Pare Down activities

Many students pile on extracurricular activities to add lines to their college resumes, sacrificing sleep and free time in the process. But the admissions officers I spoke with said they would prefer students to commit to only one or two activities that really interest them.

4. Realize that a name does not reflect ability

Much of the frenzy surrounding college admissions stems from the belief that name schools offer the best education and the most direct path to success. This is a myth. Studies have shown that attending an elite school does not increase earnings, and in 2005 the number of S&P 500 CEOs who graduated from Harvard was the same as the number who graduated from the University of Wisconsin.

5. Agree that admission is not personal

Too many families treat acceptance letter day as judgment day, as if acceptance or rejection made some kind of personal comment. In reality, admissions is a numbers game that most students cannot overcome. The competition is so fierce that the difference between “Congratulations” and “Unfortunately…” can be as simple as the school band needing a French horn player. Admissions officers told me that each season they have to turn away a large number of students who are exceptionally qualified to attend their school.

The bottom line is that there are over 2,500 four-year colleges in the US, plus many fantastic schools abroad. Most of these schools would fall over backwards to admit a decent student. The opinion that the quality of education in famous schools is leaps and bounds ahead of other schools is wrong. So relax. It’s okay if you don’t freak out. Focusing on individual interests and spending time on things for happiness rather than summaries will ensure that everything goes well. (See the ACCOMPLISHMENTS section for more tips and stories from the students I followed).

** To book Alexandra Robbins’ lecture or moderated discussion, or to learn more about ACHIEVEMENTS: THE SECRET LIVES OF CHILDREN’S GUIDE, visit AlexandraRobbins.com.

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