College Counseling Blog
Welcome to the College Counseling Blog by Chris Teare, Director of College Counseling, and Russell Althouse, Associate Director of College Counseling.
Rigorous Inquiry and the College Admissions Process
The recent college admissions scandal, where unscrupulous parents in some cases paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to cheat their children’s way into prestigious colleges, has many lessons for all of us who care about the college process. This case has become one for the courts to adjudicate, and some of the parents involved may indeed spend time in jail. One type of rigorous inquiry has helped all of us learn more about how truly bad people can be.
All the negatives here can, however, if we learn the right lessons, inspire us to do things the right way going forward, to find what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” while trying to make something positive out of the carnage of the American Civil War.
Where rigorous inquiry comes properly into play in the college process is first in self-examination. Students need to study themselves to gain a maturing sense of who they are, what works for them, what doesn’t work, and what they might most like to learn. Having developed something like an internal gyroscope to keep their balance during their search, they need to begin a rigorous inquiry into their options: Small, medium, or large? Public or private? Urban, suburban, or rural? Close to home or far away? Warm or cold? Liberal Arts or career track/pre-professional? Conservative or progressive? Those are first questions, not the last.
Other questions will be: Can I get in? Can I afford it? If I have to take out some student loans, how much is too much to borrow? Rigorous inquiry means asking a lot of questions.
To engage properly in the process, parents also have to examine themselves: How well do I understand my child? Do I know what he or she loves? What he or she honestly can’t abide? Am I willing to listen to the perspectives of other adults? Can I help my child understand the difference between wants and needs? Can I separate my life and choices from my child’s life and choices? Can I build a partnership with my child’s college counselor through open communication? Can I avoid “pronoun confusion” by never saying “WE are applying to….”?
Rigorous inquiry also challenges those of us who do this work as professional college counselors. We need to be lifelong learners. I first visited a college campus and applied in 1975. Since then I have visited and re-visited hundreds of campuses. I have been to most of Princeton Review’s Best 384 Colleges(some many times), as well as others that have not yet made the cut. In recent weeks, I have gone back to NYU, Fordham, Rutgers, TCNJ, Drexel, and Penn. I will soon go to Marist, Vassar, West Point, and the Culinary Institute of America. In June I will visit DePaul, Loyola Chicago, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago. Everywhere I go, I try to engage in the rigorous inquiry that helps me help our students.
So, having started with scandal, let us conclude with success: Wardlaw + Hartridge graduates go to college. Our challenge is to use rigorous inquiry to help them choose one that’s a great fit.
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