Some parents are so worried about their student receiving an offer of admission from a prestigious college that they’ll consider any course of action rumored to help. Here are five common paths I’ve seen parents take that lead to frustration and disappointment almost every time.
1. “We have a connection…”
The reported value of connections in college admissions is grossly exaggerated. The 24-year-old admissions officer reading your student's file doesn’t care that you have a close personal family friend who’s a graduate of the school. Unless your connection is the person reading the file (or someone who will halt funding for the new science building if your student gets rejected), don’t count on the relationship leading to an offer of admission.
2. Repeated rounds of expensive test prep
Test scores make some families feel more control over their admissions destiny because they can compare a student’s scores to the published averages for each school’s admitted students. And test preparation certainly has its place for some students. But the law of diminishing returns applies to score improvements gained through test preparation, and I hate to see an otherwise accomplished kid sacrifice time preparing for a third or fourth try at the SAT that’s not likely to pay off.
3. Searching for a back-door to admission, like applying under an odd major
Yes, some majors are more open than others. But if everyone who applied as a forestry or soil science major got into a particular college, word would have gotten out by now, and everybody would be doing it. And just because a student is admitted into a less popular major doesn’t mean he can necessarily change his mind at will once he enrolls. Unless your student is ready to study trees or dirt for four years, don’t go the route of applying to get into a less popular major.
4. Expressing interest for the sake of appearing interested
A student who is sincerely interested in a college wants to chat with the rep at the college fair, attend the information session at the high school, and even visit the campus if scheduling and geography allow. But a student who’s advised to do these things by a parent in the hopes it will influence the admissions decision never seems legitimately happy to be there. Genuine expressions of interest are good. Expressions of interest as a strategy are not.
5. Filling out the applications, writing the essays, or otherwise hijacking the process from your student
Most parents who do this are well-meaning. But when a parent has gotten too involved in the process, it’s almost always apparent to an admissions officer. The more students do for themselves, the more successful they tend to be at getting into the colleges that fit them.