cutting back on stress AND getting admitted

I was presenting to parents of high school juniors last night at Yorktown High School in Arlington, VA. They were a great crowd (meaning, they laughed at my jokes – clearly a mark of an intelligent and discerning group), but MAN were they STRESSED. I closed with my favorite two pieces of advice about the admissions process:

1) Don’t take this process personally. I mean, seriously, we don’t know you. I realize that every school you visit claims they won’t treat you like a number, and they want to know the “real” you, and they have come to care deeply about you (no, not just your parents checkbook. No. Really.). Even so, when they’re reading two bazillion (that’s a very high number – you’ll learn about it in your very advanced math classes) applications, things will kinda run together. So you need to know – whether you get admitted or denied – it’s not really about YOU. It’s about that bunch of stuff you sent: your grades and courses and scores and maybe some stuff you wrote and a couple of other people wrote about you. Before you get your admission decisions, put all that stuff together and take a look for yourself. Is that you? Of course not! Admissions officers aren’t your parents, your teachers, or your friends. We’re not even that guy you periodically see lurking near your school (at least, I hope not). It’s a bunch of people, maybe one or two of whom you might have met once or twice, who are going to read your application. If they deny you, they’re denying that application, not you. You they don’t know. You are still the same very cool person you were before us boneheads made our decision.

2) So if all that’s true, then don’t get all caught up in any one school (except maybe Mason. No not really. Ok, maybe a little). Apply to a few that are in your range, any of which will be great for you. And bear in mind, most schools will be great for you. That’s what colleges and universities do. We’ve had years and years of figuring out how to educate you while still allowing you to have a reasonably good time. Let’s face it – there really aren’t all that many schools that totally suck.

So – don’t take it personal, and don’t get hung up. Also, try to find some fun in this process. There is fun to be had – more about that later. In the meantime, relax – you’re going to be fine. Be seeing you.

PS – One of my colleagues sent a note last night after I posted asking if I really believed that decisions were NEVER personal. Good point! It’s true that many admissions officers will have that one student they met on the road, saw at a fair, or met on campus, who they really want to admit, and will stretch for them. I suspect it’s rare, but surely possible, that some really mean nasty admission officers decide they just don’t like some applicant and try to sink their chances. From my perspective, that still leaves you, the applicant, in the same boat. Whether your skilled sucking up makes you a counsellor’s pet, or leaves them filled with loathing, it’s still about someone they likely met just briefly.

Now there are even rarer exceptions, such as when someone you really do know is an admissions officer, maybe even a family member. Fair enough, then it’s going to feel pretty darn personal. At that point, should they deny you, I would definately take them off your holiday card list. Unless, of course, you’re a really awful student. In that case, give them a break – you probably don’t want anybody to risk their job over your past performance. But why should I bother writing about that? No reader of THIS blog has a weak academic record…right?


Advice on filling out the FAFSA

Some good advice on completing the financial forms from the Los Angeles Times at,1,2625171.column?coll=la-utilities-business-money&ctrack=1&cset=true.

Dealing with denial

Here’s an article from the Bend Bulletin (from Bend, Oregon – what, you don’t already read that paper every day?) that’s pretty good on the subject of handling rejection in the admissions process I also think articles like this do a bit of overhyping about the competition and overlook the many schools, like terrific community colleges, that remain options for all students. Of course, I don’t think any of YOU will ever be denied, but you may want the article to share with your less talented friends. Be seeing you

College admissions reality: stress and parents

Interesting article from the Dean of Admissions at Cooper Union  As some of the comments note, I think that admissions officers have to accept most of the blame for a process and marketing that creates most of the stress in this process.  I’m also not a fan of the whole “helicopter parent” tag, which doesn’t seem to me to be all that different than in the past few years if you factor out the ease of ongoing contact via mobile phones and texting.  I’d write more, but I just got elected PTA president of my son’s elementary school where he’s in kindergarten, and I need to go talk to the principal about making sure my son is getting enough good performance stickers to accurrately reflect his obvious brilliance.  Be seeing you.


Shameless Plug: Another basketball brag!

One of Mason’s players set an NCAA record last night.

Exceptional Extra-curriculars: Eagle Scouts

If I haven’t already, I’ll spend some time soon talking about all the confusion around extra-curricular involvment in the admissions process. I’m usually on the side of reminding applicants that admissions committees are unlikely to know what any particular award, group, or activity entails – whether you needed to spend every waking moment devoting every iota of your cunning, skill, and energy, or whether you just showed up once and got to add it to your list. A reporter, however, recently reminded me of a pretty good exception. She was writing an article about the rank of Eagle Scout from the Boy Scouts of America. A local troop managed to get all 11 members to that rank, apparently the first time so many in one troop have gotten there, and she wanted to know what I (and by that I mean all admissions officers everywhere) think of the award.

The reporter seemed to be hoping I’d say something about how outmoded the Boy Scouts are – whether because they bar anyone who is gay from being scout leaders or because Scouting just doesn’t seem “cool”. You can check out the article here:

While I personally find Scouts policies regarding their leaders offensive, I disagreed with her premise. Let’s face it – a lot of extra-curriculars aren’t considered “cool” (also, I think the word cool is likely no longer cool, but we’ll leave that for another time). Apart from being the school football hero, whether you are the grand master in chess, the leader of the band, the star in the school play, or a brilliant poet, you probably get some flack. If high school wasn’t cruel about these things, where would Disney find themes for their musicals?

But I stray…again. Regardless of the coolness factor, Eagle Scout is one of those rare exceptions to my feelings about extra-curriculars. In my opinion, (did I mention I’m on a crusade to stop the use of IMHO? Does anyone believe the writer is actually humble?) Eagle Scout is one of the few (maybe the only) widely recognized awards. No matter how little an admissions officer knows about it, he or she is likely to know that 1) it’s a LOT of work, 2) it’s not handed out very often, and 3) you have to do some pretty significant stuff to get the award. It’s helpful that the perception is that the award isn’t based on some standardized test or on the opinion of any individual, but on a set of accomplishments that have to meet a national standard. I haven’t been able to think of any other achivements that have the same brag points.

Of course, I bear in mind that it is possible that either I am just wrong about perception of the award, or that I’m old and only us old people have this perception. Fortunately, I’m rarely wrong (thankfully my wife does not regularly read the blog) and I did ask around to check my perception (I asked two other admissions officers. At a dinner party. They did not disagree, which I take as complete support for my position). Also, most of the other admissions deans are WAY older than me. WAY older. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. Where was I? Oh yeah – Eagle Scout works out, I believe, as a pretty good support factor for admissions committees. Of course, that still doesn’t come near the importance of your academic record, which remains by far the most important part of the process. Speaking of not being cool, I was an Indian Guide. I think I was in for about three weeks. I’m pretty sure I didn’t bother to include that in my college applications. Be seeing you.

Shameless Plug: Our speech teacher is better than yours

I’ve bragged before about our amazing forensics team.  For those who are confused, that has nothing to do with CSI (although one of our past student body presidents, Archie Kao, has a regular role on the series, and was named among People’s hottest bachelors, was one of the Power Rangers, has his own Wikipedia page  – – and is a really great guy…but that’s for another blog).  No, Forensics is about public speaking in competition with other schools.  We kick a lot of tail in those competitions, and have one of the best records in the country. That accelerated a few years ago when we stole Professor Peter Pober away from the University of Texas to lead the team (and host the largest Forensics summer program in the nation!).

I already thought Peter was ridiculously cool – he has one of the best forensic competition records of any coach in the country, and he’s a snappy dresser.  But then I find out he’s SUCH an expert that Newsweek brought him in to assess the speech styles of the Presidential candidates.  Mind you, you can hardly open an article about the election without finding at least one (sometimes two or three) of our faculty quoted – but even so this stood out as pretty impressive.  Check it out at  Be seeing you.

 PS – just when I thought I was done with this post (actually, almost a day later) I got an email from Dr. Pober with more good news, and have faithfully pasted it in:  “For the first time in Mason Forensics history, the team won both days at the prestigious Hell Froze Over National Invitational Forensics Tournament where more than 1000 entries competed for top honors. Nine of the top ten teams in the nation ( and dozens more) competed for the coveted title and our Mason Forensics Team bettered the second place team by nearly 50 percent of their points the first day and 40 percent the second day.” –