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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/ 3/2010

College acceptances, test scores: a plea for privacy

By Valerie Strauss

I recently wrote about how and whether high schools should publicly display where their seniors are accepted to college, and I came out on the side of letting the decisions stay private; the kids can tell who they want. Some people agreed with me; others did not.

Here is a plea for privacy that helped form my own arguments. It was written by Miami-based educational consultant David Altshuler, who helps students and families choose and apply to colleges, universities and boarding schools of all types. This was his answer to a query about innovative ways for high schools to display college acceptance decisions.

By David Altshuler
My advice would be not to do anything. No bulletin board, no list in the school paper, no announcement, no email.

Think privacy. Think confidentiality. Think "College is a match to be made, not a game to be won."

What about the child going to a local community college because her single parent father lost his job. Does he want "Maria Enriquez--Local Community College" up there on the bulletin board next to "Abigail Adams--Princeton"? Probably not.

The disparity in family income is clear enough in the student parking lot. There is no need to beat them over the head with this information in another form.

And what about the student with learning disabilities who’s headed for Curry (College) or Lynn (University)?

Great schools, but does she want her card up there next to the kids off to Washington University, Duke and Stanford? Again, probably not.

And what about the child who isn’t going to college in the fall because she’s headed to wilderness therapy for drug rehab and then to an emotional growth boarding school? She deserves her privacy, and our respect, as well.

Sensitive teachers don’t walk around handing out test papers saying "Jose, 92; Martha 87; Ooh, looks like Tommy didn’t study. Tommy, 59." Counselors shouldn’t betray confidences either. How can students come to a counselor for confidential advice when they know that in a few months he or she will disclose to the community that which should be private?

Why would they tell a counselor of their learning differences, or their need for a school without too much academic pressure, or their family’s concern about finances if the counselor is going to publicize their decision?

At the very least, let the kids sign a paper saying that both they and their parents want their names displayed. Not just for FERPA or HIPAA considerations, but because it’s the right thing to do.

As counselors, we should be all about privacy, autonomy and choice. Putting the names of the kids and their colleges in public view is the opposite of what we’re supposed to stand for.

Isn’t one of our primary goals as counselors to model for our communities that we should love our children for who they are, not for what they accomplish? “High expectations, high love”—the best way to parent, to teach and to counsel--is consistent with pointing out narcissism when we see it.

Please consider allowing families to keep a private issue private.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 3, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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If Abagail Adams might not want to be boasting about Princeton to everyone in the school.

Posted by: someguy100 | February 3, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Mr Altshuler makes a valid arguement. However, I feel posting college acceptances is, in at least some instances, motivational for underclassmen. Why not post the colleges to which students were accepted without specifying which colleges accepted which students?

Posted by: noedspeak | February 3, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

George W. Bush Yale University
No disparity at all in publicly posting names and colleges in high schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 3, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

High schools don't need to link the acceptances to students' names, but they absolutely should be required to publish a list of matriculations. For one thing, it does reflect well, or poorly, upon the school's academic program and guidance department. If the acceptances are not where they should be, questions should be asked. "Confidentiality" is too often used to shield administrators.

As an aside, I find the generation of parents too protective of today's teenagers. It isn't a terrible fate to allow your community to know your plans after high school.

Posted by: terriblyboring | February 3, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I graduated from a FCPS high school in 2003 and my sister in 2006. When we were in high school--and I believe this still holds true--my high school career center provided a book of college acceptance statistics. Profiles were created for every graduating senior. The names were not included, but all information that many high school seniors (and their parents) are obsessed with were: SAT scores, GPA, number of AP classes taken, colleges applied to, and colleges accepted to.

I didn't even know that this data collecting existed, until my sister was researching colleges in the high school career center. She was there with her history class and her teacher came across my profile. When my sister heard the schools and quickly said that it was mine, the teacher didn't believe her. My sister attends a good school and will graduate in May, but she didn't apply to any of the schools I did. Her teacher and later her guidance counselor, did not believe that two siblings could have such different academic records. My sister knew her academic strengths and did not need people telling her how she didn't measure up to her holder sister.

There is danger is schools allowing students to see the statistics of admitted students from previous years. The statistics are just part of why applicants are admitted. Essays and recommendations count for something, especially as applicants with similar academic credentials from the high school experience different admission decisions.

Posted by: DCgalnSeattle | February 3, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with going to a community college? Maybe that student has decided to concentrate on studying instead of rioting after the football games or coping with a drunken roommate.

On the other hand, I've always wondered why a reporter calling, a school and asking what grades a student is getting will be told that is confidential information, but the schools can release for publication the honor rolls indicating at least what students have grades above a certain average.

Don't publicize anything unless it makes the police news or the student--not the parent--sends the information out.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 3, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

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