The college hunt: It's enough to drive a mom crazy
I promised myself I wouldn’t worry about my daughter’s college search ever -- and certainly not until she was a senior (she’s still a junior). Besides, as an education reporter, I’ve authoritatively told many a parent that becoming obsessed would be annoying and unseemly, not to mention unproductive.
But without permission, my mind started analyzing everything in terms of the college hunt. A trip my daughter took to Boston to see her aunt? Why not check out colleges? When she showed me her latest writing, I heard myself say to myself, "Now THAT would make a great essay, tweaked ever so slightly." My neighbor said something nice about her and, I thought, "Tell that to the admissions office."
To avoid becoming pathological, I sought advice from Susan Coll, an author who chronicled the college admissions process in her hilarious novel “Acceptance” (which was made into a TV movie with Joan Cusack) and who is soon publishing her delicious new novel called “Beach Week.”
Susan not only did extensive research on the college admissions process for her book but she’s also a three-time veteran of the college admissions process with her own children.
“Acceptance” follows a group of kids at a highly competitive high school go through the admissions process. It was the result of an amusing thought she had several years ago:
What would happen if, by dint of a statistical error, a small hidden liberal arts college suddenly was placed high on the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.
Research, including a cold call to U.S. News, persuaded her that the consequences would be significant. The school would immediately be flooded with applications because of the rankings, just one of the many absurdities of the admissions process about which she wrote. Experts on admissions said she nailed it.
As it happened, a short time after the book came out, there was an “error in data output” and U.S. News’s 2008 guide to graduate programs elevated two schools into the top 10 for electrical engineering when their rankings were really extremely low.
“Error in data output”--another reason to avoid rankings.
So I told her about my worries--and she told me to stop obsessing.
How? I asked.
Just stop it, she said; it really works out fine in the end, really.
“It’s almost like childbirth, especially when you are going through it the first time,” she said. “You’ve spent all this time focusing on the process and that’s not really what it’s about.”
Then I asked her to tell me what had driven her crazy when she was working on college apps with her three kids (two went to Tulane; one the University of Maryland at College Park). She gave me an answer I wasn’t expecting: “Scattergrams.”
A scattergram is essentially a charted college application history of seniors at a specific high school. Each students is anonymously entered by grades and test scores, and the computer program shows you where your kid fits into that high school’s application picture to specific colleges: How many kids applied and were accepted, rejected, wait-listed, taken off the wait list, etc.
Parents can get a password and see exactly where their kid fits in.
When you see someone outside the graph, with really low scores who was nevertheless accepted to the Ivy League, you think athlete, or legacy, or major bucks.
“Now you can spend more time making yourself insane,” she half-joked but then warned, “It was too much information. It was crossing the line between helpful information and too much information.... It can be a useful tool, but it is just another thing to obsess on, even if you think you aren’t obsessive.”
Great. Just what I need.
After doing a little of my own research I've decided that in the interests of my own sanity, I am going to (try to) believe what college admissions folks say about scattergrams: They are in no way predictive because the information can be badly skewed in many ways. So if your school wasted money on it, don't waste your time worrying about it.
I’d be interested to hear from those of you who have experience with scattergrams. Please write in the comments or to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/">http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/
And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers,
please check out our new Higher Education page at href="http://washingtonpost.com/higher-ed">washingtonpost.com/higher-ed
| February 15, 2010; 9:13 AM ET
Categories: College Admissions | Tags: college admissions
Save & Share: Previous: Who are we really honoring on Presidents’ Day?
Next: Willingham: In defense of measurement
Posted by: rboltuck | February 15, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: person123 | February 15, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: fmjk | February 15, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dottie_b | February 15, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Fate1 | February 15, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.