Of trailblazing and SAT scores – a tale of doors both open and closed

In the wake of this week’s college admission scandal, where elitist parents used their enormous bank accounts to gouge back door entrances into the Admissions offices of their kids’ “beyond reach” schools, I thought I’d share some good news that is tangentially related.

I have a student who is first generation college bound and has worked her tail off in the classroom from kindergarten all the way through, as well as outside the classroom in cheerleading practice, not to mention a vast résumé of community service. She was deferred admission to the University of Georgia during the Early Action process, but was accepted as of yesterday.

When she was deferred back in November I was dumbfounded, and at a loss for words that a 4.0 student with exceptional test scores and a full range of Advanced Placement classes could be deferred to my alma mater.

The HOPE Scholarship has changed things dramatically throughout the state of Georgia. I warn students and their parents all the time of how ridiculously competitive getting into UGA and Georgia Tech is these days. It gets more ridiculous every year, and I’ve been a high school counselor since some of these parents were going through the college admissions process themselves.

I’ll share this Grizzard-worthy anecdote as an illustration, “Back in my day, if you showed up the first week of classes at UGA with at least one check left in your checkbook, you got in.”

If you too matriculated in Athens GA prior to the HOPE boom, you know what I’m talking about. The flagship post-secondary institution of the state of Georgia is certainly not the only one around these parts to experience increased competition in admissions buildings, but it’s the one that comes up most often as a point of discussion in my office.

I’ve told more students this year than ever before, “Look, I grew up in Athens, I’ve got two degrees from the University of Georgia…and if they don’t want you…Well, they’re not worth it.”

My point is that these kids should not derive self-worth from college admissions decisions. Before my stellar student was accepted in UGA’s second round of admissions decisions she had been accepted by the likes of Vanderbilt, UNC, and Duke. She’s on the verge of being accepted to Emory.

But UGA is where she wants to go. So I was put into the role of cheerleader myself. Again, she’s super intelligent and incredibly talented, but she’s new to this. And more importantly, so are her parents.

The waters of the college admissions process can get muddy quickly. Actually, we shouldn’t forget all of the students that finish high school and enter the work force directly, or choose to serve our country. So the waters of post-secondary decisions can get muddy quickly.

These young adults have spent 12+ years in our schools, and now stand at the precipice of the great and immense Now What?? It’s daunting. It’s unclear. It’s surreal. It’s intimidating.

So it’ s a good time to focus on what got us to where we are, collectively. From here I’m going to let UGA’s Senior Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Mr. Graves, take over with three very cogent points he made yesterday on Twitter:

Graves tweets

These students have worked hard to open up as many doors as possible. Their parents have worked hard to provide them the opportunity. Their teachers have worked hard to prepare them, academically and otherwise.

For the salacious and scintillating national story mentioned above, the worst is what those college administrators and coaches did to tarnish their own school’s campus. To deny just one student who has earned the opportunity just so that they could pocket a boatload of cash is despicable.

And what those CEOs and celebrity parents did was disgraceful on so many levels. They weren’t concerned with what their child had earned, but what their checkbook could bypass. They wanted the “status” of having a child accepted into this school or that school. Instead of helping their child traverse those muddy waters, they produced a golden bridge.

Those same CEOs and celebrities are probably in the woe is me camp right now, but it’s their own children they’ve victimized. What can we learn from their selfishness? What can we learn from the muddy sea in front of our 17 and 18 year olds that stand at said precipice?

Another parent called me yesterday, and her voice was uneasy to say the least. Her daughter is still waiting to hear from her first college choice. On the other end of the line was a frustration begat of her own daughter’s frustration, exasperation even.

This mom and I both know what kind of person this young lady has grown into. We know how brilliant and talented she is. Amid roughly 850 amazing students in her class, she stands 7th in terms of academic measures. But with thousands of applicants, admissions officers have to play a numbers game. We do the best we can with letters of recommendation and the like, on top of transcripts and test scores, to help them see the utmost quality of this candidate in front of them.

But in the end it’s a numbers game. One year a 31 on the ACT is enough, the next it might not. One year’s application pool does not equal the next. So this year’s admit rate may not resemble last year’s.

I listened to the mom for several minutes and searched my soul for encouraging words. In the end I just reassured her that she and her husband are doing everything we can do as parents. It’s hard to know that a student can work that hard and still not get into the opportunity they desperately prefer.

But we have to reassure them that it’s not a reflection on themselves, but one of the colleges and their admissions processes. We need these kids to be ready to blaze their own trail, regardless of where it begins.

2 thoughts on “Of trailblazing and SAT scores – a tale of doors both open and closed

  1. Bernie,
    In 1989 I literally took a campus tour, applied and was accapeted within a week.

    It is a different world. Glad todays grads have great people like you to guide and support them.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Liked by 1 person

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