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  • amyalysaglynn

The "Reach"

The other day I talked to a parent whose second child is embarking on the college application odyssey. They'd hired a college consultant for their eldest and had mixed feelings–a whole lot of money for someone to tell their kid where she could and couldn't get in, what classes to take, what volunteer activities "they wanted to see," and what was and was not a "positive" essay. She wanted to make sure her second kiddo felt equally supported but she wasn't sure she wanted to fork over several grand to that consultant again. "It seems like there should be some middle ground," she said.

There is. There are people like me, who know how to get inside a teen's head and find their story, their voice, their core metaphors–and who understand the craft of the personal essay and the power of the right words.

I am not a certified college counselor, and with all the respect in the world for those who are, that's deliberate. You want someone to tell your senior where they have a chance and where they shouldn't bother? Apologies, but I won't do it, for the very simple reason that I DON'T KNOW, and anyone who claims they do is being disingenuous. College admissions isn't algebra. It's full-on metaphysics. I've seen people get accepted by UC Berkeley and rejected by UC Riverside. I've seen seemingly slam-dunk applicants get the cold shoulder from great-match colleges and seemingly high-risk students get the red carpet rolled out for them by a highly selective school. My own class of 2021 kid was flat-out rejected from her "if all else fails" safety school, and accepted by her top choice school with a gigundo merit award. Seriously, you never know what's going on behind the scenes or why some decisions come down where they do. I think anyone who tells you they know where you will and won't get an acceptance is shining you on. I think applicants should have a few aspirational choices. I think they should be encouraged to reach.

I vividly remember my own high school college counselor's response when I mentioned my dream-date college (let's just say it rhymes with "flail"). She laughed at me, rolled her eyes, and said "yeah, good luck with that!" and sashayed off down the hallway. I was at an expensive boutique prep school, and even as a teenager it was obvious to me that the school had some pretty non-idealistic reasons to discourage students from applying to reach colleges; anyone in the college-prep space would rather be able to say "my/our students get into the schools they apply to" than "meh--it's anyone's ballgame." And hey, it's not as though there's zero predictability; it's possible to cultivate a decent profile of who tends to get into a given school. It's just that you can't know whether you might be an exception. It's unlikely you'll win the lottery, too, but some people do, and what those people all have in common is that they bought a ticket.

So I want to say be leery of anyone who encourages students to make themselves smaller or "safer." Yes, cover your bases. But it will not bring on the apocalypse if your senior gets rejected by a university with a 3% acceptance rate, and teens honestly do need to test their wings without being told they will definitely fall out of the tree and break their necks.

Oh... did you think the punchline was going to be that I got into Yale despite the mockery from my college counselor? Hah! Nah, they totally blew me off, and went on to blow me off again for graduate school, and later, for a literary award, four times. And trust me, none of that has ever come up for me in therapy. I ended up where I was meant to be, and I got the book published elsewhere. What does still come up for me on the ol' couch are vivid memories of who did and didn't believe in me when I was at a developmental stage where that confidence was everything.

Your senior has been through a lot. Encourage them to think big about what they want after high school. Assure them that everyone finds their path one way or another and that most of us discover it isn't the one we thought we were headed for (I was going to be the next Bernadette Peters! Oh well.) Encourage them not to fear rejection. What's right for them will not ultimately pass them by.

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