Addressing a Root Cause of the College Admissions Scandal

A student measures the trees in the forest on campus.

Do we need one more column addressing the recent news about bad behavior by parents and others in the admission process? I’m not sure we do. Given the mission of CTCL, however, not commenting seems remiss.

Without rehashing who did what, I’d like to focus on the why. Why would parents go to extremes to ensure their child’s placement in one university over all others? Perhaps they’d say they only wanted the best for their children, in which case I’d love to ask them how they determined that College X or University Y was the “best.”

  • Did they approach the search process as an adventure, where they outcome might be an unknown?
  • Did they spend time reflecting on the type of college experience that would challenge their student to explore new ideas, build new skills, and expand their circle of friends and mentors?
  • Did they think about the investment they were making, not in terms of a dollar amount but rather in how that investment would lead to a lifetime of creating, living, working, traveling, volunteering, exploring, growing, and learning?

Sadly, it is unlikely this is how the Varsity Blues parents approached the process because, frankly, few families do. Despite how wonderfully unique their own students are, many parents are content to use someone else’s values to determine which colleges are the “best” ones. Far more comfortable with “known” quantities, many families only consider the colleges and universities that are “ranked,” frequently mentioned in the media, or discussed in their social circles.

Given the chance to go back in time and counsel the Varsity Blues families, I would offer this advice:

  • Student-centered admission—the hallmark of CTCL-member institutions—is the norm, not the exception. There are so many colleges and universities that could be great options for many students. Begin the admissions process with an open heart and an open mind.
  • Consider a wide range of colleges, and you’ll find a long list where your student’s very own talents and gifts will be respected, appreciated, and celebrated.
  • Go to college nights and talk with admissions reps from universities that you’ve never heard of. It’s worth it to take the time to find the hidden gems where your student will thrive.
  • Above all, remember that offers of admission are not trophies bestowed on parents for their efforts in child rearing. The admissions process can and should be an opportunity to celebrate who the student is and who they are becoming.