High School Counselors, It’s Your Turn


You might be surprised to learn that Harvard doesn’t care what I think.  No one at Cal Tech consults me before making decisions.  And no one at the University of Chicago–our neighbor on the south side of Chicago–has ever called and asked me to lunch.

This is my influence on higher education in the US.

But as I thought about all the buzz surrounding The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, the recently launched initiative by 83 colleges and universities, and the collective angst it’s generated, I recall an oft-repeated discussion on several versions of the old NACAC e-list.  It would go something like this:

  • A high school counselor would send a message, asking why colleges send letters (yes, back when this started, it was letters) to students at the point of application, saying the application was incomplete, even before checking the files to see if it really was incomplete.
  • A discussion would go on for a few days
  • I’d finally jump in and say something like this: “If just ten of you from large high schools near these offending colleges would write a letter (yes, a letter) to the dean of admissions, and say this process annoyed you, and that you find it harder to be enthusiastic about her college with your students, it would stop.  And if it didn’t, you could write the president, and then it would stop.”
  • The discussion would grind to a halt
  • No one would write the letter
  • Next year, the same discussion would happen

There are lots of reasons people might think The Coalition is a bad idea: I have a few of my own thoughts I put into a piece for the Washington Post yesterday.  Mostly, the label of “Access” is just a ribbon on a lump of coal in a pretty box, I think; but beyond that, I cannot understand how a more fractured application process is good for low-income kids.  I’m willing to admit I’m wrong if that proves to be the case and someone can make sense of it for me.

Counselors who work with high school students have other reasons, not the least of which concerns the questions they’ll get about an untested product and process, and the burden this will put on the mechanical systems associated with college guidance.

My concerns don’t matter much to The Coalition, I think.  If you’re a high school counselor, yours might.  Especially if you’re a public high school counselor, the group whose students The Coalition claims to want to serve better.  So it’s time.

First, I’m sorry to say, we in colleges, and probably independent counselors (whom I’m told are often treated like pariahs at the most selective colleges) can’t do much.  It’s all on you, high school people.  But there is a lot you can do:

  • Send an email to the chief admissions officer.  If you can’t find his or her real email, send it to the admissions account
  • Do the same to the president or provost
  • Share this post to your state or regional ACAC list serve (actually, anyone can do this)
  • Send it directly to high school counselors, being sure to include large, under-resourced public schools.  Ask them to write

Just a week after the launch, I sense this discussion is already grinding to a halt, which is what happens when no one on the other side is talking publicly about this.  It’s a brilliant move.  The question is whether you’ll let it succeed.

Colleague Rafael Figueroa at Albuquerque Academy reminded us of the old Turkish proverb: No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back. I think this is advice The Coalition needs to hear.  From you.

It’s your turn.  Princeton is not returning my calls.

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One thought on “High School Counselors, It’s Your Turn

  1. Jon, I have wirtten the coalition web site with input and had no responce. I spoke up at a multi-college breakfast asking them to take my feedback back to their coatliton colleges, and they refused to discuss it, or explain it to the many public high school counselors in the room. I do not hold out much hope for us on the high school side of having influence at all with these colleges. Very sad.

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