Admissions Insanity

“But I did so well in high school. I never got lower than a [insert high grade here].”
High school is barely back in session and already the admissions frenzy for a select group of Juniors and Seniors has begun. I say select group because the statistics show that most students who attend college are at open admissions, non-selective colleges, not the highly-selective ones written about constantly.
For these select students, college admission counselors are offering advice, tutors are helping prep for the SAT/ACT, and parents are paying a personal admissions advisor direct their child through every step of the process: from extra-curricular activities to international volunteer work to the right number of AP courses. The goal, of course, is admission to the “perfect” school … But then what?
I look at this from the perspective of a college instructor completely removed from the process. I look at what lessons students learn from the admissions process, and how these shape their behavior in and approach to my Freshman Writing course.
Students seem to be concerned with two things: their grades and their test scores. If the sheer number of available test prep services are any indication, getting high grades in school do not necessarily translate into high test scores. Moreover, and from my experience, neither seem to predict student success in a basic writing course at the college level. Students learn to write one way for high school classes, another way for admissions essay, and yet another way to do well on their SAT/ACT. They learn each way of writing independently from the others, and are never shown how to transfer their skills from one style of writing to another.
Students seem to learn a small number of rote formulae and stock phrases to pad their essays, leading to high (enough) scores and grades, but few skills to write (and think) beyond those taught to them. And why should they? They do well on tests and get good grades. When students are first faced with an essay that doesn’t fall into one of the three categories mentioned above, however, they have no idea how to adapt. A student who has learned to master the five-paragraph essay (but little to nothing else) is ill-prepared to write anything longer than five paragraphs, let alone the five, ten, or twenty page essays required in college. 
While I understand parents’ and students’ desire to get into a “good” school, I want to remind them that getting in is only the first step. The student still has to take the classes once they get there. And more often than not, high school and standardized tests have left the student ill-prepared for the rigors of college. The process to get into college may be stressful, demanding, and challenging, but it is completely different than the one facing you once you get in and want to continue getting high grades (or just simply passing).
I might not have been the one who decided if you should get into college, but I do evaluate your writing to see if it is at an appropriate college level once you’re here. I just wish there wasn’t such a disconnect.  

College Acceptance Day! April Fool’s!

I have been working on a advertising strategy, researching websites and publications that would reach my target audience. My College Readiness Course is meant for, among others, high school seniors on the brink of starting college or university. I have been looking at high school counselors, independent college admissions counselors, publications and websites focusing on the admissions process.

I was impressed with the scope of the information provided by the sites I visited: Improve your SAT/ACT! Write the perfect admissions essay! Choose the best-fitting college! What to do if you’re wait-listed! Navigate student loans! How to survive residence life! Going through the massive amount of information and range of services that are available, I was struck that the one area, perhaps the most important area, that is not covered is the academic side of getting ready for college. Once you get in, figure out how to pay for it, and move in, you have to go to class, get the grades and graduate.

It’s frustrating to me as a teacher that students (and their parents) spend so much time and money on getting into college, not trusting the high schools to help them in this area and yet trust that these same institutions are teaching the kids what they need to do or know in order to succeed academically outside of high school. The kids may have been over-achievers as high school students, passed all the appropriate state assessments, but we (in higher ed) know that that does not guarantee that the student is prepared for college. As an example, 2/3 of students in the California State system need to take remedial classes. And these are students who are graduating with at least a “B” average from high school (the minimum requirement to get into Cal State). With budget cuts, the Cal State System has ordered the end of remediation. So what is a student to do in order to succeed in college?

All over the country today, students have received acceptance (and rejection) envelopes (or emails). “Senioritis,” if it already hasn’t set it, takes complete hold of the students; the hard work is already done! We’re in!

April Fool’s!

The hard work, it hasn’t even begun. Many students, despite doing everything “right,” will find themselves overwhelmed and unable to get the grades they are accustomed to. They will find themselves pleading with the teacher, but I got (insert grade here) in this subject in high school! Seniors, take pride in your acceptances, enjoy the success, but know that it’ll take more work than that in order to succeed in this next phase.