College Admissions: A View from a Prof

by Lian on January 23, 2012

Ah, I can see from the responses that College Admissions is going to be a rich and fertile topic here at The Chaos Chronicles. And, thank goodness, we have so many college profs amongst the Chaos Crew to keep me sane and honest as the next 18 months of my life is circumscribed by the admissions process for my older son.  On Chaos Chronicles 502, I talked to Dr. Nancy Berk — psychologist, stand-up, and mom– who wrote a new guide about the admissions process for parents like me called College Bound and Gagged.

I admitted on the podcast  that I’m trying to keep an open mind about what college my son might attend, but here in California, parents focus in on the Ivies and the UCs. Everything else is the “next tier” down if you listen to the talk in the bleachers. (Okay, I’m exaggerating– but it’s close to that kind of mindset! Trust me! The list of “good schools” is shockingly short considering the large number of overall colleges and universities.) I expressed to Dr. Berk that I didn’t worry about my son’s expectations, it was my expectations that concerned me. How could I keep a healthy perspective when all the parental talk around me is about ratcheting up the stakes?

I loved Nancy Berk’s no nonsense advice: Avoid those parents!

I also loved Jennie from Iowa’s advice on my blog. So I cut and pasted her response here:

Hey Lian!

Loved the show — here are my thoughts as a) a Midwesterner b) someone who went to a GREAT and unknown college (Earlham College) and c) a professor at a school rated by US News as “an A+ school for B+ students”

a) If people are judgmental, they aren’t worth your time…let them live their lives of quiet desperation….as Holden Caulfield would have said,  “You don’t need Phonies”

b) There are a MILLION great schools, only about 8 have a “big” name, 30 have a “almost big” name, etc…..AND, there’s NO saying that the teaching, learning and peers there will be good. My friends who went to Harvard and mostly teaching-assistants as their Prof’s were too busy being important Harvard profs.

c) Having gone to a small, unknown school, I found the disadvantage was only in the first few years out — the alumni circle was less powerful – so whereas my friends who went to Harvard, Brown, Stanford started in entry-level positions, my friends from Earlham were secretaries and worked our ways up. After 2-3 years, it was all our quality, not the name of our school. Also, when people had heard of my school, it earned me extra points because they knew its worth and value (and probably knew I wasn’t a “phoney!”)

d) LOTS of very smart people are professors and can’t all get jobs at those “important big schools.” Dare I say, there are outstanding professors even at community colleges and small, unknown schools. In fact, I think you’re MORE likely to get a good professor at a “less important” school that cares about teaching more than CV’s/Publishing (I’m biased. )

e) Probably the best thing for a kid will be not to be laden with debt.  Being debt-free will go a LOT further than the name of an “important big school”

I am deputizing Jennie from Iowa, aka Ma Schmidt,  to keep me sane on my journey. She’s right: I don’t need the phonies!  But I do  need  Chaos Crew member and fellow blogger Professor Alan, on my  “Talk Me Down” team. Here’s what Prof. Alan wrote in response to Ma Schmidt’s comments:

As a tenured professor of a mid-ranked state school in the Midwest, let me “amen” everything Ma Schmidt said.

Thanks, people. Oh, btw, I’m now getting the SAT Question of the Day, and I miss about 90% of them the first try. Even the English ones with the grammar. That’s humbling! All those things I sued to know, like Algebra.

Embracing my chaos, Lian



T3zoo January 28, 2012 at 6:35 AM

I’m so glad that we’ll be going through this process at the same time! I’m trying not to go crazy getting TWO kids (twins) into school at the same time!

Hot Mess January 27, 2012 at 10:58 AM

hilarious about the SAT Question of the Day. But, really: the whole process is so daunting. I started college studying journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, and ended up with a degree in modern dance at North Carolina School of the Arts. Now I produce a webseries. I think a name DOES matter (because, like Ma Schmidt says–it gives clout). Remember to keep focused on what’s important: college is still about teaching the kids HOW to learn. HOW to work with others. HOW to juggle what’s important. HOW to start to take care of themselves. HOW to be contributing member of society. And on the subject of embracing the chaos: laugh a little, (it’s what we are all about)

Lisa January 27, 2012 at 9:47 AM

Ma Schmidt hit that one right on! I am reminded when I was going to go to college. I has cousins all around my age and we entered college within 3 years of each other. My aunt was horrified that I was going to a state school-she thought they were awful! When we all graduated my cousins came out with a mountain of debt, I came out with a wonderful career. Ironically I now teach at the state university I attended and we are nationally known for our department and I have personally become an “expert” in one aspect of our profession (I use this lightly because I am the only one who published in the subject). Not bad for a product of a state school that not many people have heard of unless you live in our area.
Schools have benefits for individual students-there really is no one size fits all.

pat in o.c. January 27, 2012 at 9:45 AM

A co-worker & her daughter 1st heard of U of Colorado @ Colorado Springs at a college fair by the high school. Had attended several already, private college seminars, etc. She was accepted at several good math/tech schools, i.e., both Cal. Polys, UCSD, U of Oregon, Mich. State, etc. But, UCCS actively sought out the female math major, & helped get her a visit to the campus, the city, & developed a scholarship/financial aid pkg. to meet most of the costs. She fell in love with Col. Springs & the campus, & the high tech emphasis. So far, loves the 1st year experience.
All that, at a school, neither had heard of, or even considered, until they ran across it at a college fair, a great college recruiter, & a mom that had every high school, sports, extra-curric., academic, record ready & at hand.

You son is rather brilliant. I am sure any campus will be lucky to have him.
Trying to get into the Claremont Colleges today is nearly impossible! Your husband & you must be genius material.

Dana Pepper Bouton January 25, 2012 at 10:18 PM

Hi Lian,

Well I can relate to this conversation as you know my son is in 11th grade as well!

Although I have been through the college vetting process before with my daughter, I am no expert. The only two things I tried to remember during the fall and winter months of her senior high school year was 1) let her navigate the process and evaluate as clearly as possible why she wanted to apply to her seven colleges (in her case I think five would have sufficed) 2) remember that I have family members that range from prestigious college graduate to college drop out–one of whom was struggling to hold on to his job…and guess which one that was?

I think it is good advice to avoid/ignore what people say about their kids and how many schools they are applying to and where. Blah..blah..blah.. It’s that “oneupmanship” type of competition running rampant in our community!

After going through the applications process for private schools and college (seven times and counting!), I really believe that the admissions people know who is the right fit for their school…and it sure is a great feeling to know that your son or daughter is happy and thriving…whether they are at Stanford or Podunk U!

William J. January 24, 2012 at 12:57 PM

I think you are getting excellent advise. Some of those colleges that nobody has heard of may be the best ones not only to educate your son but to help watch out for him.

I remember getting off of a bus in downtown Long Beach the week after I graduated from college. Across the street was The Edison Building. I was sure there was a CPA firm in that tall of a building, so I went over there and applied cold to one of The Big Eight accounting firms. They had never heard of the college that I attended. They gave me a test that they had given to Ivy leaguers, USC, Stanford etc. I tripled the previous highest score and was hired on the spot.

When I had a car accident even though I was one of their poorest students (1.7 GPA at the time) they would travel the twelve miles to the hospital I was in to give me my assignments.. The Dean of Student Affairs found a place for my parents to stay. For free. I had to drop out to concentrate on my recovery. Even though I wasn’t a student. Dr. S., Dr. C, and Dr. F all professors at the college wrote or called me daily. When I returned to Southern Oregon College (Now Southern Oregon University) the found me a scholarship and I went on to graduating with honors (3.75 GPA).

It is isn’t how well a college is known, it is how much the professors and the administration care about their students.

Ma Schmidt January 23, 2012 at 6:56 PM

Deputy status accepted!

Ma Schmidt January 23, 2012 at 6:55 PM

Wow — glad it helped! It will be okay!!! What else would it be? :)

Professor Alan January 23, 2012 at 3:46 PM

The number of high school graduates peaked around 2009, but will stay quite high for the next few years, meaning that there is a lot of competition out there. I know that is better news to use in education biz than it is for parents & students, but … that is what is going on now. Yes, GPA and test scores are the first bar a student has to cross, but once past the minimum for the specific school, the other things come into play. Don’t overlook recommendations and the essays!

And don’t forget to look for scholarships — most colleges have bunches of them, and they can be for a wider range of students than you might think.

And as was said above, unless you are talking about the top 10 “name” universities that will bring lifelong cache, quality education can be found at a range of colleges, small and large, even some that you might not have heard of yet.

Lian, thanks for the kind words and blog link!

Cyndi January 23, 2012 at 11:12 AM

The college admissions processes has taken place in my house twice and now it’s a breather before my sophomore son gets sucked into it. I’m enjoying the respite while we write ridiculous tuition checks … one thing I know for sure, the next and last time it comes around, I will NOT listen to 90% of the conversations that take place around me and get my heading spinning again! A lot of people are just blowing off their nervous energy, especially the first time parents (I include myself on that!) so try to keep your ears tuned in to the right people.

I was standing in a grocery line last fall and overhead a woman blowing a lot of hot air – how her daughter was applying to 21 (!) schools across the country and blah blah blah … she asked the friend in line about her daughter’s process so far and the poor friend admitted she was just getting started. Once hot air left, I turned to the friend and said – “That women is crazy! Don’t pay any attention to her.”

I’m sure your radar is up on all things college related – just use a good filter.

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