For counselors and others who are deeply in-the-know, the college admissions landscape is going through dramatic change.
The FAFSA is changing. The SAT is being revamped. And the proposed “Coalition App”—a rival to the Common Application which would allow students to start building a college admissions portfolio as early as freshman year—is being simultaneously cheered and loathed depending on who you talk to.
For counselors, test-prep companies, and colleges themselves, these are potentially big changes, the kind that can be difficult and uncomfortable. And the best representatives from all those constituencies are right to keep asking, “How will this affect our students?”
It’s the right question to ask. It’s the right thing to discuss with your colleagues. But in most cases, it’s the wrong topic to actually discuss with your students.
If you work with high school students, remember that no matter how different some aspects of their process might be from those of past classes, they won’t have anything to compare it to. For them, what’s presented today is what’s normal. There’s no need to exacerbate admissions anxiety by discussing history that can’t be changed.
Imagine starting a new job and the boss spending much of the first day telling you all the details and implications of a policy change that was being enacted that day. Do you care how things were always done in the past? Do you want to know all the reasons this is better (or worse) than the former way? Do you need to adjust to this change? No—it’s your first day! Current employees might care about all of those things, but yesterday isn’t part of your reality at this job yet. How to do great work today is what matters to you.
I’ve seen representatives from test prep companies spend up to an hour in front of audiences of students and parents describing in detail how the new SAT will differ from the old one. I’m not suggesting that information isn’t relevant. But kids (and their parents) want to know about the test they’ll face, how to best prepare for it, and what scores they’ll need to get into the colleges they want to attend. They care a lot less about how their test is different from a test they’ll never have to take.
Keep up with the changes. Do whatever you have to do to understand their implications. Identify how your students will be affected, adjust your advice accordingly, and share your knowledge with as many colleagues as possible. That’s all in the best interest of your kids.
But when you sit down to actually help a student plan for college, don’t spend too much time explaining the past and how things have changed. For them, it’s yesterday’s news. Instead, focus on today and tomorrow. That’s where they need to be focused, too.