After Varsity Blues: How to Level the College Admissions Playing Field

College admissions counselor helping a high schooler

It was the height of my daughter’s senior year in high school when I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the obvious.

SAT scores. 

Because…of course.

My borderline hysterical message (“whatifIsentthemtoolateandweruinedeverything?”) got a reply from a college coach the next morning: “Everything’s fine.”

The topline of that story (for me) is the dumb things I worry about in the middle of the night (sorry, husband).

For everyone else, it’s probably the part about the email – and the college coach. 

Yes, I asked a private college advisor about my daughter’s admissions.  It’s not what you think. 

Ever since Varsity Blues confirmed what we always believed about the over entitled, the world has assumed that every parent who uses a college expert is really looking for advice on creative photo shopping…or bribery. 

They’re not (OK, some are. But they’re in the minority). 

Most people aren’t asking for advice because they want to cheat.

They’re using college counselors for the reason I did – because they don’t want to mess it up. 

Look: applying to college is hard – and unbelievably scary. Back in my day, I pretty much chose colleges with a Ouija board and some darts; my deposit went to the school that would have me. My entire tuition bill was probably less than what most kids spend today for a semester of pizza. 

That is so not the case now. Forget the fact that parents start worrying about college when their child is in the womb. Forget that they start worrying about whether they’ll be able to afford college even before that. Forget that the common app allows kids to apply to a bazillion schools at once, thus making it impossible to figure out what any of it means. Forget the fact that kids only get one shot at it. One. Oh – and never forget that the debt kids come out with could change their financial futures before they’re even old enough to rent a car. 

And they’re asking mom and dad about all of it

Forget the question of why would someone want to ask an expert. Why wouldn’t they?

But people (like me) aren’t looking for the “$500,000 will get you an athletic scholarship for a sport you don’t play” variety of advice. They don’t want “$15,000 will get you a great SAT avatar” plan. They want the, “Yes, your child did a great job writing their own essay with their own hands without fabricating a tragic back story – send with confidence” variety; or the “Here are some great fit schools for your child to apply to, and here’s what you’ll need to do” variety. Or (and this one’s really important): “This school is offering a great financial package that will leave you with so much less debt than the brand name with the $60k price tag. And it’s still a really good school” variety.  Wondering how important that one is? Read this

It’s like asking about taxes or retirement: we just want to know we’re doing it right. Everyone should have access to that. And increasingly people do…advice from former admissions officers as an employee benefit (my shameless plug for my company)…for free. Which explains this from Forbes.   

As for the cheaters, “People let the stress of it push them to do things that in their heart of hearts they know is not right,” our own Elizabeth Heaton told CNBC. “They justify it by saying everyone is doing it. I’m telling you that they are not.” 

Maybe what we really need is to rethink how college is making us all nuts.

Until then…getting a little advice so you can stop worrying and start sleeping?

Everyone should have access to that.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

April 9, 2019

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.