Universitas Blog

What Do You Tell the Kid Who Has Everything?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I had the pleasure of talking to a very bright young lady recently.  She has an extremely impressive academic record.  She is an IB student with trimester averages right at or just above 40, 2200+ SAT, 800 on the Math II Subject Test and 760 on Chemistry,  and predicted a perfect 45 for IB final grade (teachers wrote a pretty big check for her to cash!)  Good list of extracurricular involvement , capped by the captaincy of her basketball team.  She and her mother came to see me about her college list.  After my recent post about bad college lists, she was worried that hers fell into the same category and was wondering if she needed more safeties and if she did, did I have any to suggest to her.  Her list was thus:  Claremont McKenna, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, NYU, Princeton (applied REA), Penn, USC, Stanford, Northwestern, and Cal Berkeley.  

At first, it seemed top heavy but given her powerful academic credentials, perhaps not.  I turned the whole thing over in my mind.  

Does she need to apply to more safeties?  I replied that it was wrong to think of safeties as just that....safeties.  One applies to a college not just for the purposes of having a safety, but because one is genuinely interested in that college.  When you do your college research, look for schools you LIKE and you would be happy to attend regardless of its perceived prestige or reputation.  Only after you've cut down your list to a manageable number should you consider factors such as reach, target, and safety.  If you have too many reaches and targets, then you need to look further afield but always motivated by this thought:  am I genuinely interested in this school?  Why?  One should never apply to a school simply because it's a safety or because it's really prestigious and I just MIGHT get in.  Apply to a school because you are genuinely interested in it.  And have enough schools that you like so they cover a spectrum of admission possibilities.  

The more I talked to her though, the more I sensed that she had no driving reason to apply to any of the colleges on her list.  When I asked her what was so special about Harvard or Northwestern such that they were on her list, she couldn't really answer.  As I suspected (and as is true with many students), she was applying without being cognizant of anything particularly appealing to those schools except perhaps the name and the reputation of the schools.  I said that she should spend time, sit down and ask herself why she was applying to the schools on her list.  I advised her to do the research and ask herself what she wants out of her four years in college.  In short, do the stuff that she should have done a year ago when she began her college search.

Yes, this kid had everything...the great grades, solid extra curricular activities, and the finances to make it all happen.  But there was little or no purpose to what she was doing.  That's the lesson I want to drive home today.  Regardless of where you are thinking of going to college, in the US, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, the UK or just staying local, the most important thing is be purposeful.  Make sure that all your college applications are purposeful, that they're all there for a reason that's personal and powerful for you.  If you have this, it will be reflected in your application and this can only be beneficial to you.



Go Big or Go Home

Friday, November 07, 2014

I heard something very sad today.

I saw a student's US college list.  He's a 94/100 student with very high SAT scores (2200).  His college list was dotted with names like Stanford (where he is applying early), USC, Yale, Yale NUS, Boston University, Boston College, Duke, Penn, Brown, etc.  As typical of college lists from Filipino students, it was populated by too many "long shot" and "not a prayer" schools.  I can see possible admissions from Boston College and Boston University but I just don't see it from any of the others.

The mother came up and said, "If my son is going to college in the States and I'm going to pay a lot of money, he might as well go to the very best schools.  If not, he might as well as go to college in the Philippines and save the money."

While I'm certainly not in a position to tell the mother how to spend her money and where to send her son to college, what she said made me a bit angry...but mostly sad.  I felt sad for the son.  There's nothing intrinsically wrong with going to college in the Philippines but given the interest in going to school abroad and the fact that the family can finance such an endeavor, it seemed tragic for the child to miss out on such a great experience such as going to college in the US.  Her attitude of "go big or go home" seems to show that ego and prestige are taking over a process which should really be about finding a great educational opportunity for the boy.

So what's wrong with Go Big or Go Home?

1.  The misplaced notion of what BIG is.  For a lot of parents and students, BIG usually means just one thing:  BIG NAME.  If you've been following this blog, you already know what I think of this notion.  But if you haven't, let me spell it out.  BIG NAME does not mean best university.  As a matter of fact, I always say there is no such thing as a best university, only the best university for you.  BIG NAME universities are not necessarily the best places to get a good undergraduate education.  The best places for an undergraduate education are the smaller liberal arts colleges where the focus is on mentoring and teaching undergraduate students.  The BIG NAME universities got BIG because of the prestige of their graduate and professional programs.  For instance, Harvard's Law School, Medical School, and Graduate Business School is world renowned.  But the undergraduate Harvard College (did you even know that the undergraduate division of Harvard University is called Harvard College?) is rarely in the news.  The last time it was in the news was for a cheating scandal a few years ago.  I'm NOT saying that Harvard College is a bad place to go to college.  What I AM saying is that given its extreme selectivity, they can be doing a better job.  And you can do yourself a favor by going to a less competitive college that offers a better undergraduate experience.

2.  It's all about ego and prestige, not education.  Parents and students are loathe to admit it but they like the idea of Stanford (for some reason, this university is incredibly popular among the students I see) not for the quality of its education but for the bragging rights.  Most students love the sight of themselves wearing a sweatshirt or T shirt with STANFORD or UC BERKELEY or YALE emblazoned across the front (for some reason, Penn business students never wear a PENN shirt.  Their shirts always loudly proclaim WHARTON.  Never a more insecure bunch of brand conscious kids, if you ask me.)  Parents also would love the chance to drop the H-bomb (Harvard) when the conversation turns to where their kids are going to college. Ditto the other Ivies (ok, maybe not Dartmouth because they've never heard of it) and Stanford.  But ask the student or parent what's so special about Stanford's method of education or why Harvard is a "good school" and I promise you a lot of blank looks and a few words here and there about how famous or prestigious it is.  

3.  The kid misses out on a potentially great, life changing experience.  I went to the States for college.  I would never ever trade that experience with anything, not for all the money in the world.  My time in college were the best years of my life.  It was quite literally, life changing.  It absolutely changed my outlook on the world. I sent my own son abroad for college. Were it not for the prohibitively expensive fees, I would recommend that all students going to college in the States.  The freedom from parents, the independence and yes, the responsibilities (shop and cooking for oneself, cleaning your kitchen and bathroom) are something you could never ever replicate here in the Philippines.  It's tragic that someone who has the interest and funding to go on such a journey would be foiled by the delusions of grandeur held by the parents and foisted on them by unscrupulous counselors.

4.  The potential for being taken for a ride by unscrupulous counselors is much greater.  Unfortunately, many of my college counseling colleagues in the Philippines are in it solely for the money and would love to have you pay them an enormous sum to give you a list of schools that do nothing but stroke your ego.  At the risk of sounding self serving, Universitas College Counseling is based on the principle of putting student welfare above revenue and honesty over flattery.

So what's the bottom line on Go Big or Go Home?  Either change the idea of BIG or end up almost assuredly of going home.




John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com
+63 (917) 833-3825


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John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com

+63 (917) 833-3825

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