An Open Letter to College-Bound Students and Their Parents
There are few times more exciting to work on a college campus than the start of a new academic year. Across the country, thousands of new students descend on institutions of higher learning, each student with their own talents and aspirations, eager to share their understanding of the world, excited to discover more about who they are and what the world has to offer. Those of us working in college admissions offices are grateful and humbled to watch this happen every fall, as bright, able students begin a journey of discovery as strangers and emerge from the experience knowing more about themselves, each other and the possibilities that await after graduation.
To be sure, the process of starting college, and the application process that accompanies it, can have its moments of anxiety and uncertainty. Applying to college opens students to scrutiny in ways few other events in life do, and the uncertainty that accompanies the college application process can be rife with doubts. The same can occur in the initial few days of the first year of college, or even subsequent years, as students see the academic and social challenges awaiting them, many wondering if they are up to the tasks required of them.
Recent studies suggest more students are experiencing bouts of anxiety, doubt and depression over the transition to college, and life in general, than ever before. Increasing competition for limited spots at some colleges, concerns over the ability to meet the financial demands of college attendance and general concern if the student is heading in the right direction are just some of the factors contributing to this increase. Combined with what other reports see as rising personal and social pressures, it is easy to understand why more students than ever before are looking for reassurance at a time of transition that seems to offer so little of it.
To those students applying to college this fall, we say to you -- we hear you, and we are here to help. Out of the thousands of higher education institutions in the United States -- be it a four-year college or university, a two-year college, or a technical training program -- not a single one runs an Office of Judgment. The purpose of an office of admission is to authentically represent our institution and the experience it can provide. We review each applicant and determine if that student’s talents, goals and interests will be best served by our school, without exceeding our capacity to serve all students who enroll.
It’s been said that no one goes into college admissions because they want to see how many students they can reject. This isn’t always easy for students to understand, especially when there are more qualified applicants than room to admit them. But that is a limitation of the college, not the students. There are many places where you can shine, and the application process give you the opportunity to explore all of them.
Our work with you is designed to nurture and encourage you in every step of the application process, to create a dialogue that allows you to bring forth the best, clearest picture of who you are, what you think about and what our institution can do to help you grow. If your work on an application finds you wondering where to turn for help, support or reassurance, contact us. Helping you is not our job; it is our privilege.
Recognizing that many of life’s challenges aren’t related to college, it is important to realize you also have local support to help you with any issues that may come up in your life. Understanding that teachers and school counselors are often faced with high numbers of students to serve, these professionals have a remarkable track record of stepping up and offering help to students who ask for it. From reviewing drafts of admissions essays, to listening to your plans for the future, to connecting you to other professionals who may offer greater help with other challenges, the educators and support teams of your local schools are here for you as well.
To those students starting their college careers this fall, we say welcome. Our work with your application for admission may be over, but our help in welcoming you to campus and assisting with a smooth adjustment to your new academic home is never over. Our colleagues in other parts of the college, including student services, academic support and the faculty, know there is more to a successful college transition than good grades and a strong classroom experience.
If asking for help feels uncomfortable, know that every student feels that way. It may look like everyone in college is walking around with great confidence, but nearly no one is. College is a new world, with a new language, culture and norms. It’s more than OK to acknowledge that you need some help making sense of this new world, and research shows that’s much more likely to happen if you find a peer or mentor to connect with. It’s also the No. 1 reason you’ll come back for the next semester, and the next year, and graduate. Start with the one person for whom asking feels the least awkward. People who work for colleges are there for one reason -- your success -- and they want to help.
To the parents looking for the best way to promote strong, healthy, autonomous life habits in their children who are college bound, we strongly urge you to play an active role that puts the student at the center of the application and transition processes. The skills needed to complete a college application require the same levels of judgment, organization, collaboration, leadership and initiative that make for a strong college experience. Now is the time for students to refine those skills by practicing them and receiving constructive feedback that allows them to reflect, regroup and try again if necessary.
A regularly scheduled weekly meeting to discuss college application issues in high school and transition issues in college, typically around 20 to 30 minutes, provides a healthy avenue of reliable support and structure your student can count on. There will be ample opportunities to take steps to support your child in this process, but as is the case with almost every parental duty, the vital steps are to listen more than speak and to love the child you have, not the child you want.
Cultural and technological advances have created opportunities for students that were difficult to imagine even a handful of years ago, yet this abundance of choice seems to have brought new levels of hesitation, doubt and stress for many young people. Our work as admissions professionals -- as educators in our own right -- is to do everything we can to clear the field of opportunity of as many of those doubts as possible, and provide each student with the opportunity to realize the very best in themselves, in others, and in the world they will help shape.
Vice president for enrollment management
Vice president for enrollment management and dean of college admissions
Associate vice president and director of admissions
Grand Valley State University
Dean of admissions emeritus
Harvey Mudd College
Vice president, marketing and enrollment strategy
Vice president, enrollment management
Dean of admissions and financial aid
Interim executive director of admissions and recruitment
Michigan State University
Vice president for enrollment management
Associate dean of admission/director of financial aid
Executive director, admissions
Northern Michigan University
J. Carey Thompson
Vice president for enrollment and communications, dean of admission
Director of admission
Texas Christian University
Vice president, enrollment and student success
Vice president for admissions financial aid and enrollment
Union College, N.Y.
Executive director of admissions
University of Colorado Boulder
Associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment
University of Notre Dame
Director of admissions/assistant vice president for enrollment management
University of Oregon
Dean of admissions
University of Pennsylvania
Associate vice president and dean of admission
University of Richmond
Dean of admission
University of Southern California
Vice president for enrollment management
University of Southern Indiana
Senior vice president for student life and enrollment management
Vice president for enrollment