"What's your success rate?"
Families ask us that sometimes in our introductory meetings. It's a fair question, and our answer doesn't satisfy every family who asks. Not everyone defines college counseling success the way we do.
If what the family really wants to know is how many of our students get into Ivy League schools, they're probably not going to like the answer–we don't know. Some get in every year, but we don't keep a running tally. That's not how we measure whether or not we (or our students) did a good job.
How you measure success in anything will define what you do and how you behave while you're doing it. I don't want to turn away a "B" student just because he won't add to our Ivy League tally. I don't want to feel pressure to tell the high achiever who loves Oberlin that she should really consider Princeton too, even though she has no interest in it. And most importantly, I don't want to play a role in perpetuating the misguided belief that the best schools are the famous ones, and that a student's failure to gain admission to one means that he was somehow inadequate.
We measure our success by how happy our families are with their students' college choices. We like that our kids have attended over 700 different colleges. When a student emailed one of our counselors yesterday from the Millsaps College campus
and said, "As of today, I'm going to Millsaps!"–that's a success (for
him especially, but for us, too). If a student has college options, if he's excited about where he gets to go, and his family is itching to get the parent version of the school's sweatshirts so they can attend orientation weekend in style, we think that's a good success for everyone involved.
That measurement means we can work with families who care more about fit than they do about prestige. We can encourage students to be themselves in their applications and essays, to research colleges and find ones they love even if they haven't heard of them yet, and most importantly, to have some fun while they're doing it.
If you're a student, a parent or a counselor who's not enjoying the process as much as you'd like to, the fastest way to change that is to change how you measure your success.