College Admission Anxiety is a Systemic Problem

I haven’t posted here in a while because I’m writing for my Forbes.com blog. But my most recent entries are about how the college admission system is a major cause of anxiety and pressure in kids and families. Here’s the beginning of today’s entry:

Let’s face it, the problem of college admission anxiety encompasses a lot more than individual worries about whether or not students will get into college. With proper research and planning, they will, since over 50% of American colleges and universities still accept over half their applicants. The most fiercely competitive colleges and universities do their best to lower that statistic, but the rest of the collegiate system is doing fairly well; most applicants end up somewhere even if it may not be their first choice.

What really affects students’, families’ and schools’ perceptions of the process arises from anxieties about the economy, the method(s) of paying for college and the resulting worries about the “worth” of attending a four-year institution. Is it simply to prepare for a job? To learn something, anything? To become more aware of the world while developing the skills needed to become a productive member of society? To interact with people from around the world and gain some understanding of it? What are parents (and industrious students) paying for, exactly?

Add to that the many critiques of colleges as  “four year parties,” cesspools of political correctness, leftist training grounds, dumbed down playgrounds and worse. Add the increasingly prevalent myth that only “name-brand” institutions can guarantee a decent post-college life and you have a perfect storm of exaggerated faith, suspicion, fear, financial uncertainty, and no idea about the “worth” of a college education. What are we left with?

Despite all that, the numbers of students applying to college continue to grow unabated (influenced mostly by demography as well as numerous “go to college” efforts). We are convinced that college provides the key to a better life, higher incomes, even better health and social/political participation. But the effort needed to get into these institutions now must be proportional to what the eventual rewards are assumed to be. An inflation of sorts is at work: the effort of 10 or 20 years ago isn’t worth what it is today.

Read the rest (and my other entries) HEREiu-2

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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