Because each student in our care is unique, personal attention is essential to success in the college process. The development of self-knowledge and the search to identify options, one of which will become the best next step in the life of the young person we serve, is a very personal undertaking. We cover all aspects of the size, type, location, personality, program, and price tag of college options, and help students present themselves in the best possible ways in the applications they file, the conversations they have, and—perhaps most precisely on this point—the personal statements that they write, commonly known as their college essays. We will soon be engaging our juniors in detailed discussions, then first drafts of these statements. Ms. Honan and I work closely and individually with all students, for months, to help them express themselves in as authentic and compelling a way possible. Attention to writing is just one way in which personal attention is crucial in helping individuals make their way forward amidst so many possibilities.
One aspect of the process that has required additional personal attention in the past year is the matter of standardized testing. Bowdoin was the first college to go “test optional” more than 50 years ago, and more than 1,000 other colleges and universities had joined that movement in the decades since. Then, a year ago, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, SAT and ACT test centers were closed, and opportunities to take those tests were canceled all over the world. As a result, more than 500 more colleges went test optional at least for this year, meaning seniors almost everywhere had a decision to make: Do I send any testing I have – or not? What will testing, or the lack thereof, mean to my chances of admission? These questions were new ones for those considering universities at the top level of selectivity, because none of the eight Ivy League options, nor their peers (with the exception of the University of Chicago) had previously been test-optional. What we’ve seen this year is an inverse correlation that insiders could predict: As the number of test scores submitted went down, the scores submitted went up—way up. In reporting data on this year’s cycle, colleges and universities will have, at least initially, numbers that will not reflect the reality of the students they have enrolled, because a quarter to a third of those students will not yet, if ever, have submitted any testing. With so much in flux, and test centers back online, the matter of whether or not to submit testing will be more in need of personal attention than ever before, and we will provide that attention.
An example of how uncertain the testing landscape has become is that the venerable Fiske Guide to Colleges, soon to publish its 38th edition, has suspended including ACT or SAT scores. In Inside Higher Education, Editor Ted Fiske said, “We take pride in our reputation as a trusted source of reliable admissions information. Rather than publish inaccurate and misleading data, we have decided to omit any reporting of score ranges for the foreseeable future. To do otherwise would be a disservice to our readers.” I met Ted in 1985, when he was education editor of The New York Times, and I am a member of his Editorial Advisory Group. Each year, those of us in the group offer Ted our perspectives regarding the Guide. The decision to drop ACTs and SATs was a thoughtful one, reflective of significant dialogue. Its upshot for the students in our care? More personal attention to the matter of how much time and effort to put into standardized testing, whether or not to send test scores once students have them in hand, and careful scrutiny of whether or not the numbers published by colleges have any predictive value at all. These are matters for individual conversation, for personal attention, precisely the hallmark of our work in Wardlaw+Hartridge School College Counseling.