Business as usual isn’t news

The college admissions news that receives coverage frequently isn’t news at all, at least not to everyone. I don’t mean that it’s factually inaccurate or even misleading—the just-the-facts stories usually have appropriate due diligence behind them. But as I’ve written before, while the press loves to cover stories whose headlines blare that it’s still really difficult to get into the most selective colleges, it’s certainly not breaking news, especially for those who work in admissions or counseling.

We’ve seen a lot of this recently with coverage around the ridiculous measures to which some wealthy parents have resorted to secure their kids’ admission. We’ve seen it with a new “adversity index” included as part of an SAT score. And we’ve seen it with one Harvard admit who had his admission revoked after some alarming social media posts from his past surfaced. Front page news to many students and parents? Maybe. But not for most counselors and admissions officers.

The details may be new, but almost every professional I’ve come across was not at all surprised to learn that some people will use extraordinary wealth to try to gain an advantage, that colleges care about where a student grows up, or that an admission can be revoked at any time (almost every letter of admission makes it clear the offer is provisional).

I mention this because the college admissions process produces enough anxiety and confusion without families sensing they are about to be thrust into some bizarre, unpredictable, dramatic ritual defined by headline-making experiences. The news will always cover the headlines guaranteed to grab readers’ attention. But you can restore your sense of normalcy by checking in with those who know how to separate what makes headlines from what to actually expect.

Patrick O’Connor explains this well in his new piece, “College Admissions and Our Love of the Obvious.” I hope it reinforces for families that while the admissions process is far from perfect and the headlines may signal that you’re in for an unpredictable ride, it’s almost entirely business as usual for those guiding you through it.