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Posted at 9:15 PM ET, 01/24/2010

Admissions season begins. Again.

By Valerie Strauss

I didn’t react when I heard this:

“There are over 3,000 colleges and universities out there, and there is a school for everyone, so don’t worry about your child getting in.”

But by the time I heard this--“The college admissions process shouldn’t take over your life”-- a slow quiet scream was rising in my throat.

This is part of the speech that college admissions counselors are giving right now to students in 11th grade and their parents around the greater Washington area and everywhere else in the country. I heard it last week at the private school where my 11th grader attends.

Sure, there ARE so many wonderful colleges that there must be a place for everyone. I doubt, though, that that stops parents from wondering, “But will my child find the right place?”

And sure, the college admissions process shouldn't take over your life. Of course not. “But who are you kidding?” I thought. “Of course it will!”

If you assumed that the admissions season was ending for now because most high school seniors are now sweating out decision letters, guess again. It isn’t even nearly over for those seniors--and the juniors are just beginning.

In fact, many 11th graders have already started; many are deep into SAT or ACT test prep, some have hired consultants, and others have already visited some campuses.

The formal process at schools began in the last week at a lot of Washington area schools. On Sunday night, for example, Whitman Senior High School in Bethesda, Md., held for juniors and their parents “The Nuts and Bolts of College Planning” -- including a panel discussion on what colleges are looking for, how to go about the college search process and why students chose a particular college.

As an education writer, I’ve chronicled for years how the admissions season never really ends.

Not for admissions directors, who are always either recruiting or evaluating or both.

Not for parents, some of whom worry about whether the preschool they choose for their child will affect college choice.

And certainly not for the kids, who hear about “college readiness skills” at ever younger ages (which is why some kids have tutors at age 3). In fact, on the website of Montgomery County Public Schools is a roadmap with “seven keys to college readiness.” The first is “advanced reading in grades K-12.” I kid you not.

Now, after watching relatives and friends and reporting subjects go through it, my husband and I get to go through this ourselves. And I have to admit that I reacted differently as a parent than I have in the past as a reporter.

If earlier I had heard a college admissions officer equivocate on certain questions, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. But when people you know are asking the questions, you want a deeper answer than “It depends.”

Is early decision a good option?” a parent asked.

It depends,” the college rep said.

What happens if a student hasn’t done well in all five core areas (math, science, history, foreign language and English)” someone asked.

It depends,” was the response.

Come on now. We already know that “it depends” applies to pretty much everything in life already. How about a little glimpse into the layer beneath?

And just when I thought nothing could be more disconcerting than another “It depends,” there was this:

Would, a student asked, college admissions officers rather have us take an AP class as a challenge and get a ‘C’ or ‘B’ or take an honors or regular class and get an ‘A?’

The response: "Take the AP and get an A minus.”

Everybody laughed; the answer and the way it was delivered was objectively funny. But I’m guessing a lot of folks were wincing, too. I thought: "It's going to be a long season."

So over the next many months, The Sheet will spend space and time each day looking at every aspect of college admissions. I will also continue to look at the range of education issues, but in a sense, all of them--reading, standardized testing, school reform--are part of the same piece.

We’ll talk about everything, including the following:
--How to figure out what kind of school your child should attend
--How to figure out who should fill out college recommendations
--How valuable graduate education is and how hard it is to get in
--Schools that don't require the SAT/ACT
--What courses admissions directors want to see
--What activities are considered valuable
--Where do 'C' students go to college?
--What about 'B' students?
--What about kids with learning disabilities?
--Do you tell colleges about specific learning disabilities?
--What happened to high school rankings and how does that affect admissions?
--Why straight A students are sometimes rejected and students with lesser grades get in
--How much being a legacy helps
--What does “need blind,” “need sensitive” and “need squint” mean when it comes to financial aid?
--What essays should never be written
--How many schools should you apply to?
--When to visit schools

If you have any questions, send them to me at theanswersheet@washpost.com. I’ll get an answer, and also ask admissions directors and counselors, students and parents to weight in with their thoughts and experiences. If there is something important on the subject somewhere else on the web, I’ll let you know about it (and if you see something you want me to know, tell me).

Oh, and by the way, there are more than 3,000 colleges and universities and there is a school for everyone....

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 24, 2010; 9:15 PM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Comments

Interesting Valerie that you "limit" choices to 3000. Both my kids went to universities in Canada. Here are some reasons why.

Cost (Savings over four years at a small liberal arts college in Canada will be around $100,000 compared to a similar American school fees to public U.S. universities are about one-third higher than fees for bachelors’ degree programs in Canada in 2003. Costs for basic goods and services are similarly lower with monthly rents for a typical Canadian one-bedroom apartment averaging $550.00 per month. Given current exchange rates, that’s less than $500.00 per month in U.S. currency).
Geographic advantage for American applicants (There are still less than 10,000 American students in Canadian colleges, undergraduate and graduate combined, and Canada is actively reaching out to recruit international- including American- students).
School quality (Several of Canada’s large universities such as McGill and the University of Toronto routinely rank above famous American schools in International “best of” surveys. Quality of universities in Canada is more nearly even.
Reverse geographic advantage in applying to graduate schools in the U.S. as an international student (Additionally, should an American student choose to pursue a graduate program in Canada, many of the programs are dual degree, recognized in both countries, and thereby afford students the chance to practice professionally in the U.S.).
Most Canadian schools are within 100 miles of the border (San Francisco, for example, is over 300 miles closer to The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, than it is to the University of Colorado in Boulder).
International experience (There’s a big difference between having international students at a U.S. university and being part of an international community at a foreign school. As a bilingual country Canada attracts a wide variety of international students).
Safe cities (The World Bank ranks Canada among the best places in the world to live, work, and study).

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | January 25, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

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