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College Admissions Scandal

Thalia Thompson, M.S., I.E.C.: Posted on Friday, March 15, 2019 6:53 PM

William "Rick" Singer said he had an inside scoop to getting into college, with anyone able to gain access, by simply buying his book, "Getting In: Gaining Admission To Your College of Choice."

"This book is full of secrets," he claimed, before dispensing advice on personal branding, test-taking and college essays.

There are NO secrets, and ethical college admissions counselors and private coaches, have been stressing that for decades.

Once again, an entrepreneurial interloper has infiltrated the field of education. A field which is consistently devalued in the United States, and one in which business types, non-practicing attorneys, and myriad others, believe they have something valuable to say-- and sell. A misguided contribution, based on hubris, and the false notion, that the field is one in which “common sense”, or business acumen, trumps decades of research, study, and actual experience.

In no other industrialized, modern nation, is education respected so little. And it shows. The United States embarrasses itself by ranking 17 in educational performance worldwide.

Instead of earnestly addressing this humiliating deficit, we legitimize politicians pandering to those bereft of educational opportunities, due to our nation’s poor policies. Elected officials shamelessly purport to care, yet consistently set policy which retract funds from a decent public education system for all. And hucksters, such as Singer, financially benefit from the chaos.

What family doesn’t want top-notch educational opportunities for their children?

Even the most exclusive public high schools, in which families pay top tax dollars, tout, on average, one Guidance Counselor for every four-hundred and fifty students. It’s no wonder then, that well-intended families turn to the services of college coaches during the stressful admissions process.

The majority of college admissions coaches are ethical. In fact, most are current or former educators, with Master’s degrees in Education/Counseling (or beyond), members of the Independent Educational Consultants’ Association, and some, Certified Educational Planners.

Rick Singer, and his ilk, who have infiltrated our professional sphere, are criminal outliers, and not reflective of the profession. Yet, with every Rick Singer promising secret, insider information, and/or selling outrageously expensive boot camps at over $15,000 a weekend, our life’s work continues to be undermined.

The glibness, sense of entitlement, and greed, driving these criminals cannot be overstated.

What could ever possibly excuse this behavior?

There simply is NO excuse.

Thalia Thompson, M.S.

Independent Educational Consultant

Norwalk, CT

March 13, 2019

Teens Write the Darndest Things!

Thalia Thompson, M.S., I.E.C.: Posted on Saturday, December 28, 2013 12:52 AM

Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to read countless Common Application Personal Statements from college applicants throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties. Last year, I blogged about the typical do’s and don’ts of college applications’ essays.

I stressed the importance of careful editing and engaging several sets of eyes for review of the main essay which is sent, on average, to ten institutions. The typical cautions were stressed regarding ensuring one’s tone is not accusatory, condescending, nor overly sarcastic. The importance of being one’s self and writing in an authentic voice was also highlighted.

Despite this, students continue to ask about the relevance of their chosen topic and its potential banality. Is it too commonplace to write about my family? My relationship with my pet? A particular academic challenge?

College admissions personnel have pretty much heard it all! Sure, there will always be the exceedingly unique circumstance and accompanying story! Admissions’ committees, however, do not expect that the majority of applicants will have faced transformational life events between the ages of 0 and 17!

The topic is never as important as how one writes about it. The readers seek insight, maturity, and self-awareness. They want to know what you will contribute to their institution. And increasingly, they seem to like stories.

In my day, college prompts were asked in a straightforward manner: Why do you want to attend our institution? Responses were answered directly and concretely.

Somewhere along the way, reviewers began to crave artfully-crafted short tales. Perhaps it was the mass sharing of “Essays that Worked” via the internet or the ubiquity of the Common App. which increased application rates, causing reviewers to ask for increasingly entertaining reading material.

Either way, students today are charged with showing through their stories, as opposed to telling via narratives. Guidance counselors and English teachers have done a terrific job in preparing most students for this challenge as potential essay prompts are frequently introduced in class much earlier than college admissions season.

While it’s not the topic itself as much as how the essay is written and what it says about the writer’s value system, for students seeking to avoid typical teen-style writings, the following may prove useful:

1) The life-changing car accident---I never appreciated the frequency of vehicular incidents prior to reading Fairfield County college applications’ essays. Thanks kids for instilling the fear of God in me when I hit the road! And for the record, please try to be more mindful when behind the wheel!

2) Parental (Grand-parental) sacrifices---This essay topic, if well-written, can be poignant. If not thoughtfully considered, however, one risks sounding trite or saying more about one’s relative(s) than oneself.

3) The lack of diversity inherent in Fairfield or Westchester Counties and the desperate desire to escape the hell of your monolithic communities. (If not careful with this essay, it’s easy to come across as pampered, negative, and unappreciative of your caregivers’ efforts to provide you with the best life they could.)

4) Using the same adjectives repeatedly throughout the essay---On-line thesauruses and proofreading are key!

5) The tendency to exaggerate/dramatize each event/situation/encounter----Phrases like the most, the best, the worst, etc. should be reserved for truly deserving circumstances.

6) The lack of self-awareness as evidenced by minimal self-reflection, humility, and/or ability to view issues from multiple perspectives---I cannot stress enough the importance of digging a little deeper and illustrating to the reader why something is meaningful to you and how it reflects your beliefs.

7) The never-ending run on sentence replete with tons of unnecessary detail---Short sentences are your friend! Indeed, they can often make your point much more powerfully than a longer, confusing sentence.

8) The use of terms such as under-privileged, Third World, needy, etc. which unwittingly portray you as ignorant at best, and mean-spirited at worst.

 9) The non-existent final paragraph which fails to tie everything together and provide your essay with a main point.

Minding Your P's/Q's When Applying to Colleges

Thalia Thomspon, M.S., I.E.C.: Posted on Sunday, July 28, 2013 6:08 PM

Minding P’s and Q’s When Applying to Colleges

When the Common Application goes “live” on August 1,2013, proactive rising seniors will be paying close attention to the essay prompts. Perhaps they’ll brainstorm topics or even begin drafting their main essay. Essays are unquestionably a vital component of the college applications’ process! To that end, driven students will spend countless hours this fall writing and editing their essays for maximum impact. While poignant and grammatically correct essays are important, an often overlooked piece to the college admissions process is the purposeful minding of one’s P’s and Q’s (manners/behavior).

This frequently less-discussed component of the college admissions process relates to one’s finesse in initiating contact with colleges, deftly handling correspondences, and exuding maturity and insight during interviews. Lack of manners, initiation, and/or positive assertiveness can decrease your chances of acceptance when all else (test scores, GPA, extracurricular activities) is equal.

While a straightforward concept, minding one’s manners is surprisingly overlooked or perceived as being unimportant in today’s insular, high-tech world.

Examples of elegant follow-through include:

1) Student-initiated correspondences with admissions officers for interviews, information sessions, campus visits, etc.

2) Writing a personalized Thank You note, preferably in one’s own handwriting, to helpful college officers/coaches/interviewers

3) Following up within 24 hours of receiving an email correspondence

4) Having relevant and pertinent questions about a particular institution during interviews

5) The ability to clearly articulate WHO you are and WHY you would like to attend a particular college

Understandably, many young adults are shy and find corresponding with college officials intimidating. There is no excuse, however, for not returning an admissions’ officer’s email or having a parent, rather than the student himself, schedule on-campus visits or make relevant inquiries!

Embrace the entire college admissions process! Use this time to illustrate your maturity and leadership skills through your actions, not just your words and test scores. Colleges DO pay attention to detail!

While these actions won’t counteract less-than-stellar SAT scores, poorly-written essays, or low GPAs, the failure to simply thank someone and/or to follow through in a timely manner, can be a deciding factor to admissions’ personnel when choosing among two equally-matched candidates.

As for interviews, ancient Greek philosophers exalted the virtues of “knowing one’s self”. By that they meant, a deep, understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, and place in the world. Unrelated to hubris or excessive pride, this quality illustrated deep thought, maturity, and potential leadership abilities.

Admissions officers do not anticipate “fully formed adults”! One of the benefits of a college education is the privilege and opportunity to explore myriad potential career/life paths. College admissions officers are cognizant of this. They realize that over 50% of their entering freshman class is likely to change their major. They are not impressed with contrived, banal responses to their questions. What they are eager to witness is a sincerely interested, motivated, and enthusiastic applicant---especially as it relates to their institution!

Get to know yourself, and learn how to articulate why it is that you want to attend a particular college. And if you are shy, do your best to assert yourself a bit during this time!

The Importance of Early College Admissions Planning

Thalia Thompson, M.S., Independent Educational Consultant: Posted on Monday, October 8, 2012 12:37 AM

While high school seniors are busily engaged with the college admissions process, juniors may feel they have all the time in the world. Truth is, NOW is the time to start the process of college admissions planning. Beginning now will go far in alleviating undue stress during senior year. Why is it so important to begin nearly one year ahead of time?

Generating a list of best-match colleges takes time as a student’s career goals and potential college major(s) are identified and financial, geographical, school size, student population, selectivity(based on GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular participation, etc.) and other factors are taken into consideration. Ideally, a student will be able to identify two or three favorite institutions which promise a good chance of acceptance. They should also identify two “safety” schools and possibly two “reach” schools. The creation of this all-important list requires thorough research about each institution and a realistic assessment of a student’s chances of admission.

Once a best-match list is created, a timeline should be crafted which identifies deadlines for standardized testing, interviews, teacher recommendations, the submission of the Common Application and its required essay, and any Supplemental essays for individual colleges/universities. Decisions at this time should also be made regarding which, if any, colleges will be applied to Early Decision I, Early Decision II, Early Action, and Regular Admissions as these will affect the deadlines in the time line. Colleges differ regarding admissions deadlines, standardized test score requirements, interview availability, Common Application use, as well as desire for submission of an Arts or Athletic Supplement.

Because most competitive colleges will require a Supplemental essay which is unique to their particular institution, the best-match list is critical in identifying which essays will need to be written. (Common Application essays as well as Supplemental essay questions are made available on-line during the summer.) Sometimes, upwards of 5 or more essays, in addition to the Common Application essay, will need to be written. Obviously, this takes time--and thought. Waiting until senior year to begin these essays provides precious little time to create well-developed written work. Colleges value the essay as a way to get to know the student beyond his/her grades, standardized test scores, extracurricular involvement, etc., so the importance of these cannot be overstated!

Many colleges have specific requirements regarding submission of SAT II test scores. SAT II tests, formerly known as Achievement tests, illustrate competency in a particular subject area. There are currently 20 SAT II tests available. Many competitive colleges require SAT II tests in Math, Science, English, and any additional subjects for which a student may demonstrate high proficiency. Knowing which colleges require these is necessary when creating a time line.

College interviews are often made available to high school applicants. Some interviews are strongly recommended and evaluative, some non-evaluative, some suggested, and some not made available. If a college/university makes interviews available and that particular institution is high on a student’s best-match list, he/she should schedule and participate in the interview if at all possible. Having a head start and being well-organized can only help in preventing a last-minute, rushed affair.

Ample time to adequately explore best-match possibilities, create thoughtful, impactful college essays, fully explore financial aid/scholarship opportunities, schedule interviews, and put one’s absolute best foot forward when applying to college is critical to increasing a student's chances of admission! Teenagers spend a lifetime studying, test-taking and being shuttled to a variety of extracurricular activities in the hopes of developing the best possible college acceptance resume. Too often, many drop the ball when it comes to college admissions believing that their GPA, test scores, and achievements will speak for themselves. Putting all of the pieces together in a compelling, clear, and error-free fashion can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. Why not get a head start and avoid undue stress during college applications season?

College Competition: Have We Gone Too Far?

Thalia Thompson, M.S., IEC: Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:32 PM

Study hard. Get into a great college. Find a good job. Success and happiness will follow!

That's the credo that many parents and kids, whether high-achieving or not, have bought into. And so did I. Until I actually graduated and got my first full-time job! The job was highly-satisfying but very low-paying. So was the job that followed. And the one after that.....

The reality that I was fully responsible for finding my own happiness and sense of fulfillment had finally taken hold. I had been sold a bill of goods in believing that I was entitled to a great job and a great life by virtue of having attended and having been graduated from a great school. I was outraged!

It was not the the Ivy-league Bachelor's degree, swiftly followed by my Master's degree and internships that magically "opened doors". (Those achievements may, or may not, have helped.) I will never really know. The real "door-opener" was A LOT of hard work, perseverance, and a decent serving of luck.

I'm not minimizing the significance of acceptance into a good institution or the value of a solid education. I'm suggesting that in the push to get our kids "college ready", we may have veered off course and lost sight of the bigger picture.

In the newest documentary on the state of American public education, "The Race to Nowhere", parents in states of anxiety so astronomical as to bring them to tears are interviewed. So concerned are they about their children's chances of acceptance into prestigious institutions, that they have scheduled them to maximum capacity.

Kids are shown as having no time to enjoy their families and friends, to daydream, and to obtain critical sleep. The well-meaning, yet near-hysterical and misguided "adults" rearing them adds to the overall craziness. How can parents teach vital coping skills when they themselves are reduced to basket cases?

Children are carted to and from various activities and tutoring sessions. They then face long hours of homework geared to increasing their test scores which, it is hoped, will land them at "the right" institution of higher learning and put them on the Road to Success.

Yet, right in front of our ears, kids' cries for help go unheard as they are shuttled to psychiatrists and often medicated for anxiety and depression. It occurs to very few parents to loosen the tight rein, permit a lightening of their children's extracurricular load, and attend meaningfully to them! The fear is that in doing so, they will impede their children's chances of being competitive and successful. The irony is that these attitudes and actions are achieving the opposite of their intended goal.

While not all of you can relate to this hyper-competitive style of child-rearing, I'm pretty sure ALL of you can relate to wanting the very best for your children. That's very understandable. It's in the getting there that some of us part ways.

Books like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother make the rounds on the NY Times best-seller list, and the New York City Department of Education tests 12,000 preschoolers annually for entry into a public school Gifted Program to which only 300 will be accepted. So, from Test-Prep Centers for preschoolers to $14,000, 4-day College Admissions "Boot Camps" for teens, an entire cottage industry has blossomed to take advantage of the collective fears. Is it any wonder?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against homework, testing, and a healthy dose of competition. I'm also not adverse to extra tutoring when needed, enthusiastic participation in activities of sincere interest to kids, or assistance with the often overwhelming college applications process! But, as with everything in life, balance is key.

There is so much more to our precious little time on Earth than getting into the "best college". We don't need reams of scientific data to illustrate that graduating from even the most revered institution with the most respectable credentials does not always correlate with personal, financial, or career success.

Imparting solid social skills, teaching kids to be respectful of themselves and others, how to cope with adversity and disappointment, how to manage stress and anxiety, and how to find meaning in life is more important than producing an ivy-league graduate. What is your definition of success? And do you think some of us may have gone a bit too far?

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