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College Admission: False Voices and Escape Strategies

College Admission: False Voices and Escape Strategies

Little kids love stories. But if you are going to truly entertain them, you have to really develop the villain. Since I went to UNC, I often base my antagonist in Durham. With the Blue Devils living there, it’s quite easy to build a series of stories around the devious King K plotting in his Gothic towers to corrupt the world through sinister back channels (and occasionally back injuries). In many of these bedtime yarns, K would whisper in the ear of a good guy how he can make him more powerful, or more rich, or more safe, etc., if he/she just joins the Devils. (Note: No dig here on Duke. Great school. It just works well in anecdote… and the architecture does lend itself to the role.)

At times my kids would literally yell to the protagonist, “No! Don’t do it!” or “Can’t you see what he’s trying to do?” And in these stories, it was incredibly obvious: K was playing on their fear, or exaggerating his powers, or trying to manipulate for his own gain. They identify and call this out immediately. And that’s the point. I can make it a fairly quick story and get out of the room. Brilliant!

Identifying Voices in Real Life

But, in real life, as you get older, the tenor, motivation, and transparency of the voices around you are not as easy to discern. Messages become more nuanced, and it’s easy to be confused because many times these sources seem credible. Nobody is literally dressing up in a Devil mascot outfit with a pitchfork trying to convince you to attend a certain school or pay for a particular service.

But “false voices” are in this process, so it’s important that you listen closely. Here are a few things to watch out for as you learn to identify those who speak the truth, and those who may not.

  •  Hyperbolic language: (The quotes in this section are actual phrases that have been used, not hypothetical examples). If someone around you is continually saying things like “disaster,” “panic,” “insane,” “stress,” or “peril,” you should be very cautious. To the best of my knowledge the world hasn’t ended during admission season, even when test scores are delayed, admission applications crash, or recommendation letters fail to load. You want people around you that provide solace, wisdom based upon experience, big picture data, and the power of options. Language of fear has no place in the admission profession, so consider any trace of that a red flag. While you would not do this during bedtime tales, it’s ok to physically run from “storytellers” like that.
  • Excessive Fees: If someone is charging you for their services, you should expect sound, expert, distinguished advice. This is a life lesson. You’d have high standards and a rigorous process for selecting a financial advisor or marriage counselor who is guiding you on your investments financially and relationally, right? The same is true in the admission process. And this is where the nuance occurs, because there are some very talented, experienced professionals in the admission process who will charge a reasonable fee to assist you in college list development, application packaging, scholarship navigation, etc. There are also some parents who just went through the process with their own kid who happened to get into “a good school” and now think they are an expert. If anyone is guaranteeing you admittance to a school, promising receipt of a specific selective scholarship, or implying they have a magic bullet in their “essay crafting,” you need to yell loudly in your own brain, “NO! Don’t do it!”
  • For Profit Schools: If you are considering attending a for profit school, I would urge you to read more about debt loads, graduation rates, recruitment tactics, and scratch well below the surface before enrolling.  Often the language you see in marketing and enrollment strategy from these institutions is highly exaggerated, both in what they deliver and the results of your degree.
  •  Test preparation: There is a wide misconception that because you pay for something it’s better. Absolutely false. Khan Academy has phenomenal free preparation material and ACT is partnering to develop opportunities for free or greatly reduced tutorial options. I encourage you to start with free options before exploring fee-based avenues; particularly those “guaranteeing” certain score increase ranges.  And if you are going to invest in test prep, do your homework. There are a lot of very reasonably priced local options, including community colleges and even private high schools. These typically charge less yet get similar results to the more corporate test prep industry entities.
  • The Media: Journalists are under immense pressure to turn stories around quickly and increase readership. This means that headlines are often dramatic and frequently articles don’t tell the complete story. For instance you’re almost never going to read that only about 100 schools in our nation admit less than 33% of applicants, and that the vast majority our nation’s 2000+ schools admit more than they deny. That story is not going to sell, so the “full story” goes unpublished. Again, some education beat writers are thorough, balanced, and excellent researchers. But if you see something in print/online about a school you are interested in, I implore you to go straight to the institution for clarity and perspective.
    Bonus Tip: You’re young. Save yourself. Don’t read or contribute to the comment section below these pieces, as they quickly devolve into petty, unrelated banter.

You’re 17 or 18 years old, so I am guessing saying things like:  “No! Don’t do it!” Or “Can’t you see what he’s trying to do!” are a bit too simplistic for you. So if someone is whispering drama, fear, and hyperbole in your ear, how about borrowing from one of my favorite songs?

Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley

“Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are/

Ha ha ha bless your soul You really think you’re in control/

Well, I think you’re crazy I think you’re crazy I think you’re crazy/

And then make a run for it!

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