I am a local independent college counselor, and I attended the screening a week ago of the documentary “Race to Nowhere.”
I’d never before seen the Laguna Middle School multi-use room as packed as it was that night. Clearly, the subject of raising healthy teens who will not unravel under the pressures of high school and the college admissions process is of great concern to local families.
The film explores the cultural pressures on students to perform, sometimes at the expense of their physical and emotional health. It also examines our schools and teachers who often find themselves “teaching to the test.” A professor from Cal Poly spoke afterward about the students in his classroom who are overly concerned with their grades, accustomed to cramming information into their heads only long enough to take an exam. He expressed concern as to how these students will fare as problem solvers and critical thinkers in the workplace.
We lose sight of the fact that students are not all the same. Their interests, strengths and needs all vary tremendously. They do not all belong at four-year colleges. The community colleges are great, affordable alternatives for some. The key is to help our students determine their needs and then expose them to lots of great college options.
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We should help them to build a list of colleges to apply to that meet their criteria so that they can be successful and graduate in four years. The typical four-year degree now takes 6.2 years to complete. Nearly 50 percent of college freshmen have to take remedial coursework.
Despite increased selectivity at many colleges, the college admissions process does not have to be stressful and deflating. There are 2,500 four-year colleges in this country. Seventy percent of them accept 70 percent of applicants.
Unfortunately, many people only talk about the 20 to perhaps 100 best-known colleges. While perfect for some, most students are better off looking beyond the Ivies, beyond the big-name schools and exploring a myriad of colleges that best fit their interests and needs. This requires a great deal of research, and we haven’t given our students the time or support to conduct the necessary self-examination and research. High school counselors are so overworked that they haven’t time for the one-on-one counseling this necessitates.
A week or so ago, high school seniors from around the country finally received admission decisions from some of the most selective colleges in the country. Those who did the research were not disappointed. The process left them with a number of good options and it left them well equipped to begin their first year of college in the fall. It is a rite of passage in many respects.
We have a saying in my profession that “college is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.” Heeding that advice will spare many students from spending their high school years caught up in a “Race to Nowhere.”
Erin Ogren, owner of Central Coast College Consultants, has a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley.