Saturday, I was volunteering at our local ski area, handing out awards for the kids’ costume race. (Thing 1 and Thing 2 had performed a smashing dance, tapping away in their ski boots. My Cat in the Hat was concussed and sullenly left home to avoid bright light.) That concussion, and the admissions scandal… plus another dozen or so other things had come up that week had rattled me.
But it was the scandal that really stuck, especially when another parent approached me to half-jokingly say, “It must be hard to be a college admissions consultant right now.”
What about those students who didn’t get acceptances because others cheated them out of their spots? Photoshopping heads on water polo players? Paying proctors to correct tests? What message were these parents sending their students? What other institutions’ processes have been compromised? What will I say to my clients? To my students? How will the public perceive independent consultants moving forward? Will some families decide to break their contracts with me?
It is not news that college admissions has become increasingly competitive. The global obsession of landing in the Ivy League and the publicly perceived top tier has been hijacking rankings, headlines, and self-esteems for decades. Really, it is just a matter of the economics of supply and demand. The desire for our children to have a better life than ours is ingrained in us as parents. And, for many, in certain circles, the striving to have their children matriculate at the best institutions in the world is a requisite checkbox along the path to that eventuality.
But, how did we get here?
It boils down to the same thing any of these despicable and unethical scams stems from: FEAR. I would like to be able to give some of these parents the benefit of the doubt that their choices stemmed from an attempt to ensure and insure the future for their children that their fear lay in the notion that without a particular brand-name college degree, that future would be in peril. However, the motivations here are rooted firmly in the insidiousness of status.
It really comes down whether we think we are enough. The lie that some have swallowed is that you aren’t enough on your own, that without that label of that brand of college, you just don’t measure up.
Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and the list of those in their company drank that lie’s Kool-Aid. They are all afraid and clearly have lost sight of the one thing that is true. Having faith that your kids are enough empowers them to go and be the people they came here to be. It empowers them to be the change they wish to see in our beautiful, complex, imperfect and often tragic world.
Does it really matter where you go to college? This question is one I field from parents all the time and one that has been asked of my colleagues. Some in our profession say, “No, that it does not matter.” I disagree with them. The question takes something incredibly complex and distills it to meaninglessness. Does it matter who you marry? Does it matter what you decide to study? Does it matter where you decided to live? OF COURSE IT MATTERS. The quality and type of education offered at the thousands of higher education institutions in our country are varied, esteemed, and clearly open doors and develops minds.
It matters, but what matters more is how a student goes from applicant to accepted student and the road in between.
The real work that consultants, counselors, mentors, and parents do, when done right, is, to begin with the student—not the brand. All, amidst the loud chatter of rankings, glossy brochures, and slick presentations. Helping the student develop a sense of self, purpose, and voice, is the real work that ethical educational consultants do, contrary to how much of the media has portrayed the profession recently. If the way I help students navigate that process allows them to unearth a greater understanding of themselves, of what they are curious about, and of what they stand for, that matters. If it makes them own the truth that they are enough, that their worth is not tethered to the outcome of a particular acceptance from a particular school, that matters. Their time, here and now, their story, their contribution to the human experience, that matters. A college will not make a student; students must make the most of their college experience. However, if they go into that experience with the doubt they aren’t enough, where does that leave them?
There will always be the William Singers of the world, those who will traffic in greed and power grabs. There will always be those who believe the rules of engagement and ethics do not apply to them. There will also be those with the means to tip the scales in favor of their students. In the wake of this scandal and the ensuing ripple effect, it is time for us to remind the next generation of their worth.
It must be hard to be a college admissions consultant right now.
It was for a day or two. But May 1 is just around the corner. After regaining my center and composure, I scheduled sessions with students, researched colleges, and had conversations with parents and their students about the offers they were considering. It isn’t rougher to be a college admissions consultant today than any other today. Those of us who are professionals know this. Because every day, this is challenging work that is also rewarding and purposeful. We are members of IECA, HECA, and NACAC. We are ethical, honest, and straightforward.
So here is my hope for all of us that connect with students as college applicants: Let us not be complacent or complicit in a flawed system, but let us continue to show up authentically and ethically. Let us continue to do the important work of helping students see that they are enough and encouraging them to take that enoughness out into the world. Let us contribute through pro bono work and support the nonprofits that work to counteract glaring inequities. In the wake of this deplorable scam, let us stand up and be a voice for those applicants victimized by not getting a fair shot and for those applicants yet to come.
They all need to hear the truth that they are enough, that the mark they dream of leaving on this planet is enough. Further, they need to hear that we need them to pursue their dreams with as much courage and enthusiasm as they can muster.