It seems like, more than ever, we hear and see the phrases “fake news” or “the rumor is,” and it turns out the news was not accurate or that the rumor was indeed just a rumor. Often when I visit with students and parents, I find myself debunking some of the same “fake news” and “rumors” surrounding the college admissions process. A few examples are:
Some students and parents believe that the more activities you put on your resume, the better chance you have at getting into a particular college. There is not anything wrong with having a “well-rounded” list of activities to report to a college when you apply; however, does the quantity matter? I had coffee with a dean of admissions a few years ago, and this topic came up. He talked about the pressures parents and students must feel to include as many activities as possible on a college application to get admitted. He suggested that students make a list of all of the activities they currently do and then go back through the list and mark out the ones they no longer like or enjoy doing. Many deans of admission I speak with feel the same: the quality of the activity and a student’s demonstrated passion for that activity is what colleges look for. Students who stretch themselves too thin with so many activities often see a negative impact on their grades. After all, it is student grades, according to a recent survey by the latest National Association of College Admissions Counseling, which is the most critical factor in helping a student getting admitted to college. A parent recently asked me if their child should then stick to just one particular activity. My advice is that students should continue exploring extracurricular activities, community service opportunities, job opportunities, etc. that they are curious about doing. It is through those curiosities and trial and error attempts that students have the chance to find new interests and passions that end up looking great on college resumes or, in many cases, get discussed in a college essay. My advice? Be reasonable with your time and keep grades in mind. Oh, and don’t forget to relax, sleep, and spend time with your family and friends.
Some students believe the only way to have a positive college experience is to attend a Big 12 or SEC school with a major college football program. The University of Texas, for instance, plays 12 games a season. This season they had seven home games (other colleges typically have an even number of home and away games). Last year I ate lunch with several of our students and an admissions rep from Southwestern University, a fantastic liberal arts college located in Georgetown, Texas. There was one thing the rep said that stuck out for me in his conversation with the students: while he attended Southwestern, he went to most of the UT football home games and had a blast. However, he said that experience only lasted a few weeks out of the year. Having grown up under the “Friday Night Lights” of West Texas high school football, I get it. But, there is so much more to the college experience, such as the numerous clubs and organizations colleges offer, long-lasting friendships made in and out of classrooms, those unforgettable dorm stories/experiences, studying abroad, experiential learning opportunities, etc. These are the kinds of things former students come back to Trinity to tell our current students and me about—not what happened on the football field. Don’t forget there are several colleges in the same city or within a short drive to those Big 12 or SEC football games, so you can always have the best of both worlds.
Some students and parents believe that a student’s class rank in high school is vital to the college admissions process. Earlier this year, I went to a college event in El Paso where Duke, Harvard, Georgetown, Penn, and Stanford were all in attendance. After the event, students and parents were able to visit with the different colleges. I stopped by each small question-and-answer session, and it seemed like one of the biggest questions asked over and over again was, “Do you consider rank in class for admissions purposes?” All of the representatives from each of those schools replied that they do not consider or care about rank. As the night continued, I heard stories from different families that I visited with about how students move around town repeatedly so that their child can attend the least competitive high school possible and gain automatic admission into The University of Texas and Texas A&M. Automatic acceptance based on ranking to public universities in Texas was a rule passed by our state legislature and signed into law by then-Governor Bush, who took the idea from his brother, who was at the time Governor of Florida. Interestingly, Florida got rid of that rule years later. It seems crazy that people would go to such extremes to get “automatically admitted” to only two universities in the country that care about class rank. (I would note that despite the fact that over the last several years The University of Texas and Texas A&M rarely make it out to recruit in the Midland/Odessa area, Trinity School students get admitted to these Texas flagship institutions at an exceptional rate, despite the fact that we, like so many other independent schools and two-thirds of all schools in the country, don’t rank.)
I have heard many students say to me, “I don’t want to go to a liberal arts college because they are just too liberal.” The other day a former student of mine just arrived back home from their first semester at a liberal arts college. I asked how it went, and the student told me (and I am paraphrasing here) that AP-type classes are great, but they teach to the test. “At my school,” the student said, “we are challenged to explain our thoughts, our ideas, or explanations in front of our professor and our peers. There is something more enriching to this type of classroom experience.” I think it is essential to know that the word “liberal” in liberal arts colleges has nothing to do with a political viewpoint or perspective. Nor does it mean that a “liberal” arts college is going to steer a student towards a particular political party affiliation purposefully. Liberal arts colleges attempt to educate the whole person by offering a broad-based and enriching learning experience. Liberal arts colleges do an exceptional job of producing students who think critically, who communicate, and who read and write exceptionally well. It is no wonder that more and more companies, especially those in STEM fields, are hiring these graduates at a higher rate than ever. I challenge students and parents to look at the four-year graduation rates of these schools, which are often double that of most large and state universities. Liberal arts colleges are also great stepping stones and have extremely high placement rates for those who wish to continue to graduate school...medical, law, business, and engineering. Some might argue that liberal arts colleges are just too expensive. The vast majority of our students’ merit-based scholarship dollars comes from those liberal arts colleges. Those scholarship awards can make liberal arts colleges as inexpensive as the in-state tuition costs of many of our Texas public colleges and universities. My advice to parents and students is to branch out and explore all types of colleges and universities so that you can identify the best fit for your child. If you are out visiting colleges this spring, put a liberal arts college on your list of places to visit.
My advice to students and parents when it comes to the college admissions process is to reach out to myself or Betsy Faris here at Trinity School when you have questions. Some websites, social media, and hearsay can often be misleading. And while you may have experienced the college admissions process yourself, let me tell you that much has changed over the years. Thankfully, the administration at Trinity School provides us the resources to be able to travel and visit with college admissions officials from universities and colleges all over the country. They also provide memberships to the most credible organizations for college admissions, such as the National Association for College Admissions Counseling and the Texas Association for College Admissions Counseling. All of this helps us to have the most current and up-to-date information to properly advise our students and parents on the college admissions process.
Dr. Trey Wetendorf is Director of College Advising at Trinity School and a Trinity alumnus.