Every fall, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) hosts its annual conference and membership meeting. This year, over 6000 professionals from “both sides of the desk” - college admissions officers and school counselors - came together in Columbus, Ohio, to network, socialize and spend some dedicated time thinking and discussing the issues currently facing our profession that also affect the students and families that we all aim to serve.
Our opening keynote speaker was Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC. During her speech
exploring the myths and realities of American higher education today, she challenged the current obsession with rankings and selectivity rates and reminded us that higher education holds value for individuals and society that cannot always be measured by “straightforward” metrics such as the starting salary of a college graduate. At one point, she stopped and asked the audience, “What is a ‘selectivity rate’ but simply a measure of how many students are rejected? How did that become a surrogate for quality?”
This is a question that I often find myself wondering about after receiving the umpteenth college newsletter touting an increase in their number of applications and a decrease in their admissions rate or reading the newest “rankings” article. It’s easy to get mired in all the hype and forget that there are over 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in the US and that - as I was reminded in a later session - only about three percent of 18-year-old college-bound students are headed to a college or university that admits fewer than half of its applicants.
It would be ridiculous to believe that only this three percent of college-bound students will find academic, social, personal and financial success during and after their college tenure. Available research overwhelmingly supports the idea that the key to success in college and beyond - by every measurable standard - is not the “ranking,” selectivity or “name” of the college that a person attends, but rather the opportunities, research, experiences and connections that the person avails themselves of at their institution.
This is why, here at KO, we believe that the focus of the college advising process should be on the “right fit” for the student, not the “right name” of the school. We don’t see getting into college as the culmination of a student’s career at KO, but rather, as the first step in the next phase of our alumni’s educational journey. The “right fit” for any student, then, is the college or university that is going to best allow them to succeed academically, to continue growing as a person and as a student, and to build up a portfolio that will help them to reach their educational and/or career goals.Sitting in the audience listening to Ms. McGuire’s comments, I felt grateful and privileged to work at school that is serious, thoughtful and deliberate about what it means to be a college-preparatory school. I am confident that by the end of their career at KO, our students are well prepared for the academic rigor of college and that they have gained the skills necessary to make the best of the opportunities and experiences available to them on a college campus. This makes it easy for us in College Advising to focus on helping them go through the college search process in a way that will allow each student to find the right fit school and start focusing on the next phase of their academic journey.