College Admission: An End? A Beginning? A Stage in a Process?
A recent Washington Post article about colleges’ early admission programs highlighted two of our soon-to-be graduates, Henry and Kate Sosland. Henry and Kate found success via early admission, yet, “They didn’t flaunt it. They knew the numbers for many schools were brutal.”
"You want to celebrate,” Kate said, “but you also want to be conscious of people who are extremely hurt and stressed out.” Their balance of joy and sensitivity to others was, for me, the best part of the article. It also reminded me of the overall ethos around college admission in our region and country.
It’s perfectly natural to be anxious in advance of college admission decisions, as is true in advance of a pending decision about a job application and other situations where we may or may not be selected for something desired. In the case of college admission, though, I worry that “getting in” too often supplants a healthful and productive perspective on the value of high school, of college, and the transition from one to the other. To explore these concerns, I turned to Ms. Rexford, Director of College Guidance, for an interview. Following are my questions and her answers.
Q: Is college admission the end or the beginning?
A: In some ways it’s the beginning. A new location and environment for the next stage of learning. We can’t deny that it is also an end in a way, the end of so much that is familiar to students. Ideally, graduating high school and beginning college represents a continuation of the accumulation of knowledge and development of skills that students established in high school.
Q: What, then, do you think students should focus on while in high school?
A: Students of course have to be mindful of college applications as they progress through high school, giving thought to their selection of an academic program and how they spend their time outside the classroom. But college applications should not be the only factor in driving high school students’ (and parents’) decisions about how their time is spent. High school students can and should take advantage of opportunities to broaden themselves. Exploring areas of interest or what might become areas of interest in and out of the classroom helps students to learn about themselves and to grow in a number of ways. Doing that sometimes leads students to pursue a subject area or activity later in high school and in college. Sometimes students explore a new area and find they are most definitely not interested in continuing with it. Both outcomes benefit the student. Maintaining a lot of focus on the present is probably a good idea for high school students.
Q: How about when they get to college? What do you recommend they focus on at that point?
A: Getting into college is just the first step of being able to set themselves on a path to further exploration that eventually becomes funnelled into the major (area of study) they will pursue. I think, in college, they should sign up for a course they know nothing about. After all, colleges are able to offer unique and specialized courses that are not available in high schools. The self advocacy skills students develop in high school (an emphasis at JDS) continue to be important in college. I suggest, in college, students go to professors’ office hours to ask questions and discuss course material. I also suggest they go out of their way to attend events at their college or in the vicinity of their college and introduce themselves to people--it’s a great thing to practice and expanding our social networks (in person) is almost always beneficial. Internships and other ways of gaining hands on experience is another nice opportunity while in college. And studying abroad can be incredibly fun and educational. Many, many colleges and universities now have study abroad programs.
Q: Anything you want to add?
A: There absolutely should be celebration in being accepted to a college of one’s choice. However, it shouldn’t be considered a prize to be won, but an opportunity to grow socially, emotionally, academically, intellectually, and spiritually at the next level.
Taken together, Ms. Rexford’s answers lead to the conclusion that college admission is “all of the above”--a beginning, an end, and a stage in a process. Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with students’ pursuit of admission to specific colleges, including the most selective colleges in the country. For some students, one of those most selective colleges can be an excellent fit, and the broad recognition of those colleges can certainly be helpful down the road. That said, when we consider education to be a means of self-development and self-discovery, of broadening our perspectives and developing the confidence and the tools to tackle a myriad of life’s problems, then I believe we can rise above our culture’s prodding to somehow link our self-worth with the name of the college we attend. I agree with Ms. Rexford that a valuable college experience involves a lot of interaction with a variety of others, and at the same time, I believe that college education is largely an inside job. We gain the most from it when we make the most of it, and there are ample colleges in our country that offer more opportunity than any of us could ever seize in the span of four years (or even five or six years).
We are proud, as a high school, to guide and support our students during their years with us. It’s a sacred task we embrace. As their roads diverge, we take solace in the fact that they leave us with the foundations built at home and school, and we brim with excitement over the future they are about to create.