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Bringing Parents Into Real Time On The College Admissions Game Board

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Parents' college knowledge tends to be obsolete, as it's usually based on old memories of the admissions experience, or spotty information gleaned from friends and relatives. I speak with parents of college-targeted high school seniors on a daily basis, and I find that some key misconceptions run rampant through this group of understandably pressured and worried folks.   Why am I so concerned about parents' perceptions, perhaps even more so than those of their kids?  No matter how passionately I coach my students, final college decisions are nearly always driven by their home culture at the end of the day.   

I don't blame these well-intentioned parents.  After all, today's college admissions landscape is a rapidly and even dramatically changing one.  Accordingly, how can anyone who is living a normally crazy-busy life be expected to suddenly drop onto the game board after a years-long absence from it?   It's a tall order to intuit the rudiments and finer points of 21st-century college admissions.  

Just what sorts of knowledge obsolescence am I talking about?  The out-of-date understanding of the process falls into four sub-categories:  

  1. Admissions statistics and desirability of (seemingly) always-dependable public universities.
  2. Real-world people's accessibility to private colleges and universities. 
  3. Financial aid parameters.
  4. A working construct of just what it is college is supposed to be, and what young graduates realistically take away from it.   

So, let's take a glance at each one of these dinosaurs… 

Regarding #1, many parents still believe public university systems are the best way to go, because in the past, they were (a) relatively easy to get into; (b) relatively cheap; and (c) relatively high quality.  Nowadays none of these three attributes still hold water.  For example, in my own State of California, let's consider the University of California-Santa Barbara campus.  Parents frequently put it on their kids' preliminary college lists as a so-called safety choice, as it's always been labeled as a party school because of its dreamy oceanfront location.  It must be cheap because, after all, it's a public university and we pay taxes – right?  Since it's one of the hallowed UCs, it must certainly offer the squarest deal out there.   

(a)False, (b) False and (c) False.  

Please don't misunderstand.  I don't mean to pick on UCSB as it's a wonderful choice for many kids.  I can transfer my cautionary remarks to just about any large public university example in the nation.  But just run with me here.  Let's look at UCSB's current admission stats for first-year admits.  Last year, the average GPA for admitted UCSB freshmen was 4.0.  Hardly sounds like the party school it was said to be back in the day, yes?  As far as UCSB's cost of attendance goes, nowadays it is up to a whopping $34,000-ish per year, give or take varying fees and optional choices.  I can find plenty of private colleges that have comparable sticker prices, so a UC is not a cheap ride, contrary to parents' beliefs.   In fact, speaking to #2 and #3 above, in today's college world, financial aid offers are structured in such ways that so-called expensive private colleges are often cheaper than public universities.  In my own daughter's case, it was cheaper for us to fly her off to her favorite private college on the east coast than to drive her 90 minutes up the freeway to UCSB.   And finally, addressing #4 – freshly minted students at a large public university such as UCSB spend a sizable percentage of classroom hours in very large lecture halls with minimal one-on-one contact with professors, where at private colleges, small class sizes and ready contact with professors are two prime calling cards.  

Also pertaining to #4, a major bone of contention parents have with their children's prospective college education is, what sort of good job or guaranteed career path will result from an expensive college stay?  It's a complicated answer suited for a future posting, but for now, suffice it to say for most young people, college serves as a key part of a new normal finishing process – one characterized by tremendous self discovery and trying on of hats, if you will, that informs the eventual selection of a comfortable one.  College, by definition, is a foray into higher learning and not necessarily a marketable skills training program.  It gives a young person the inner tools and polish to facilitate a self-created, satisfying and ultimately sustainable career/life path. 

Not to exclusively bash our much-loved public universities, as I can make an equivalent example of just about any college, public or private, that's commonly considered by parents to be the be-all and end-all of higher education.  My point is that, in order for parents to play well on this new college game board, their working knowledge needs to be updated.  How can they accomplish this task?  Through reading current literature, scouring web sites, visiting campuses, and developing an honest line of communication with their teens' college counselors – and most importantly, to adopt an open-minded attitude toward considering a wide array of options.   

What do I think are the best resources today for parents to update their college knowledge?  Stay tuned for my next post!   

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