Unspoken, unexplored, or unresolved

Counselors, if a family believes that attending a prestigious college is a necessary precursor to success (or if they believe the corollary—that attending a less selective school is an inherent life disadvantage), chances are, it will be difficult for you to change their minds. No matter how many statistics, studies, or anecdotes you may bring out, it will likely be difficult to change their minds. It’s not unlike debating politics or religion—those beliefs are strong, and for better or for worse, many people are simply not inclined to change their minds.

If you’re helping a family who’s in that camp, you might not only consider these questions, but also discuss them with the family.

Do you agree with their approach?
Not everyone shares the same approach to the college admissions process, and there’s room for different, equally valid points of view. But if you’re not on the same side of the prestige question, it’s worth honestly and respectfully addressing that potential dissonance as soon as possible in the relationship.

If not, can you change their minds?
Asking a family, “Are you open to adding less selective schools to your list?” can reveal a lot about your potential work together. Some prestige seekers are also realists who understand how slim the chances of admission really are. Others want to play the admissions lottery or simply ignore the math.

If you can’t change their minds, can you still help them in some way?
Even a fundamental disagreement about the approach doesn’t always mean that a counselor and a student/family can’t work well together, especially if you agree to disagree about some components of the college application process, and willingly join forces in others. But you’ll need to have those conversations early and honestly. And all parties need to agree on who will be held responsible for which outcomes. For example, some families hire our Collegewise counselors to assist them with their applications and essays, but not to help them actually create the college list. We have open discussions with those families so everyone understands that we share responsibility for the quality of the submitted work, but not for the potential match or admissions feasibility of the chosen colleges.

In counselor/family relationships, disagreements cause the most disruption when they are any combination of unspoken, unexplored, or unresolved. Bring them to the forefront, talk about them, and then decide together if you can work around them.