WSJ Asks, What would make College Admissions Less Painful? Here’s One Answer

Two high school senior girls researching best value colleges

Elizabeth Heaton is Vice President of Educational Counseling for College Coach, and a former admissions officer.

What would make the college system less painful for all involved?

That was the question the Wall Street Journal asked some of my professional colleagues and me about college admissions.

What would reform the status quo; make people less crazy; help them keep from losing it when admissions came around?

“The fury created by high-stakes college admissions boiled over earlier this year, when federal prosecutors unveiled charges against 52 people in connection with a sprawling cheating scheme,” wrote the Journal’s Melissa Korn. 

“Reforming the system goes beyond closing the loopholes.”

It’s all true. And many weighed in: 

Get rid of rankings. 

Stop giving athletes a leg up. 

Limit the number of applications.

Jettison standardized tests.

I suggested rethinking recommendation letters to allow chaplains, job supervisors, and classmates – people who arguably know students better than the guidance counselors writing dozens of letters – to weigh in. 

In all, there were ten (very good) suggestions. And none of them, even if enacted, would solve the problem on their own.

Which is why, amid all the introspection about policy changes that would upend the experience, there’s another equally important question we should be asking. It’s not just how to change the experience for those who are buying that we should be worried about; it’s how to turn buyers (prospective students) into better consumers.  

The Question About College We Need to Ask

This is a critical question, and one we’re not asking near enough. Why don’t we help students choose better? In our work with students, we’ve already seen that better consumers can change everything. They don’t just endure the process; they take charge of it. They’re focused on the schools that fit them, not the ones that fit some ideal laid out for them. Perhaps more important, they make well thought-out decisions that are based on wallets and futures rather than prestige and brand names. The effects of those decisions can last a lifetime. And don’t think they’re limited to employees: 

  • Better consumers choose better value (price over brand)
  • Better value leads to less debt
  • Less debt equals better financial wellness
  • Better financial wellness equals better career choices
  • Better career choices equals more engagement
  • More engagement equals better productivity

Changing Financial Prospects – and Futures

The families we work with – employees who get our admissions coaching through their employers – need that advice; not just about admissions, but school choice, scholarships, and negotiating for financial aid. It’s eye opening – an hour conversation that can change a whole career. Fringe benefit: it’s an easy fix for employers that’s invaluable to employees today, and in the future. 

Leveling the playing field doesn’t just come from colleges that change the system, but from students who know how to navigate it. 

So what would make the college system less painful for all involved?

That would be help for students who are able to be better consumers. 

Employers can help them do that.

And that’s good for everyone.

Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Two high school senior girls researching best value colleges

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