Skin in the game

I’ve written before about how important it is for families to get college planning advice from the right sources. Your high school counselor, admissions reps, reputable private counselors—those sources are almost always more reliable than your friends and neighbors who may be quick to offer up advice about what colleges are looking for, how you should spend your time, what you should write your essay about, etc. While this phenomenon doesn’t seem to happen in medicine, plumbing, or decorating, unsolicited advice runs rampant in college admissions.

Still, it can be hard to ignore a source who seems so certain, especially if you’re a teen and that information is coming from an adult. So here’s a different way to consider whether or not you should listen to someone about your college planning.

If the advice proves to be wrong, will he or she have to answer for it?

When your neighbor shares second-hand information that later proves to be inaccurate, can you really take him to task? You made the choice to listen. You had no professional relationship together. He hasn’t put his credibility or reputation or job security on the line. If this is the worst-case scenario, it’s no wonder he was so quick to casually tell you what you should do.

But the college admissions officer, your high school counselor, your private counselor, even your close family members who are invested in your success—they’ve got a professional and/or personal investment in making sure they’ve given you good information.

Seek out people who know what they are talking about. And if you decide to listen to unsolicited advice from other sources, at the very least, make sure they’ve got some skin in the game.