Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Advice on Getting Into College



Every time a parent comes to my office with a pen and paper and asks expectantly, “Exactly what does my daughter have to do to get into Harvard, Yale and Princeton?” my heart sinks. There is no sure-fire formula, no magic bullet, no easy way to give this parent what he or she wants.

My real challenge, though, isn’t letting the parent down gently but helping that person reframe the question. A parent should be asking me to help him or her find the right college to challenge and enrich the life of his or her daughter. (The Ellis School, where I work, is all-girls.)

When a student finds a true fit, she will be accepted and will thrive.

The next question is the important one: How does a student find the right fit? The search for the right academic program, the right geographical location, the right physical environment and the right social ambience must come first, and that is a subject for another article.

But once the student has some inkling of what he or she wants, then this student has to find the right academic level for him or her.

None of the above is important if the student is overwhelmed or under-stimulated, just as the right academic fit will not be sufficient if the student is unhappy in other ways. And given the abundance of information we have in print and online, it is possible to find an appropriate academic level.

The courses that the student decides to take in high school are important, because all colleges like students who “challenge” themselves. Students don’t have to take suicidal loads, but they should seize their school’s opportunities within reason. Grades and standardized-test scores do matter—a lot—no matter what any college-admissions office says. The average grades and standardized-test scores of the last admitted class of most colleges is a statistic available on college Web sites, in college guide books and in guidance-office software. (And parents and students need to beware of old data; it changes too fast! It is very important to know that and to use that figure wisely.)

The student should be comfortable within those boundaries, and, because girls are at a disadvantage in the application pools to liberal-arts colleges, they should be at the upper end. If there is some compensating factor, if the student is a recruited athlete or an underrepresented minority or a legacy, he or she may be able to look at the lower edge of the statistics. And no one should be fooled by kind admissions officers who say that SATs are unimportant in colleges’ decision-making. It’s a delusion, however understandable, to think that a college will see your child as you do and make her the exception to the rule.

If your daughter has the numbers that put her in a college’s “admissible pool,” then the intangibles kick in. Some pundits suggest finding a hook by starting squash lessons at age 6 or French-horn lessons at 7, but for most students, the intangible is their personalities and their abilities to express that. One college-admissions director at a highly selective school told me that the deciding factor among many highly qualified applicants is the energy of the student’s essays, and, in my experience, that is true. The student doesn’t have to have swum the English Channel, but he or she has to be energized by that experience and has to write about it in a way that conveys that energy. The student has to be him- or herself, even though that self is an unfinished 17-year old, and has to write the essay no one else could have written.

What admissions officers, high school counselors and parents are looking for is a student who is authentically engaged by her life and her world; that is not something that can be created starting at age 16 or 17. After all, we are not just dealing with applicants in this process; we are dealing with individuals, our sons and daughters, who have been developing for 17 years.

The advice I would offer to parents is to give your children the opportunities to thrive, to grow and to pursue their interests.  Encourage them rather than push them. Support them in their interests rather than finding more “marketable” ones. Engage with them as they engage the world and then step back when they are ready to grow more independent.

To the parent in my office looking for the quick Ivy fix, I’d compliment her on the amazing 16-year-old she has raised and then ask her to let her daughter take it from here. When students come to the college-search process, they will find a good fit if they know how to do their research well. We can help them start their research then give them some space. And the greatest gift we can give may be to joyfully affix the decals of whatever colleges they choose onto the back windows of our cars.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits offers a chance for brides- and grooms-to-be to explore libations before (or instead of) a night on the town.

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As of a film, there are issues.

Popular Peter's Pub Announces Final “Last Call”

The owners of the Oakland Avenue bar announced on Facebook they have decided to retire -- but are planning one last “hoorah.”

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

The Strip District restaurant draws a diverse community to its nightly ifṭār buffet.

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

The new escape room in Pleasant Hills is a great game for newer players.

Looking for a Royal Wedding Watch Party in Pittsburgh?

With the ceremony just hours away, several watch parties and live screenings of the nuptials have already sold out. But we found a few more places in Pittsburgh still taking guests whose invitations got lost in the mail.

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

Sunrise, Sunset: Pittsburgh Playhouse's Second Act

The curtain is closing this month on the historical Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland, but it will rise again when Point Park University this fall unveils its new theater Downtown, a space with a history of its own.

A Matter of Pride: Delta Foundation's Struggles with Success

Within the span of 10 years, the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh has brought the city’s annual Pride festival to previously unimaginable heights. That growth, however, has left some members of the community behind — and unhappy.

Remembering Bruno Sammartino: “The Italian Superman”

The storied grappler captured the imagination — and the hearts — of generations of Pittsburghers.

Best Restaurants 2018

This year we recommend 40 establishments as our region's top restaurants.For the second year in a row, we categorize the restaurants in All-Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out and Classic Pittsburgh to help you find whatever suits your mood.

Chef of the Year: Jamilka Borges

Jamilka Borges, executive chef of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor, raises the bar with her dedication to volunteerism as well as her culinary prowess.

Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

When you see a show at one of these organizations, you may enjoy it as much as the children.

If You Jump, We Jump (At The Giant Bouncy House for Adults)

The world’s biggest bouncy house is coming to the Lawrence County Fair in New Castle.

The 400-Word Review: Deadpool 2

Can the sequel to the lightning-in-a-bottle superhero hit live up to its predecessor?
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Popular Peter's Pub Announces Final “Last Call”

Popular Peter's Pub Announces Final “Last Call”

The owners of the Oakland Avenue bar announced on Facebook they have decided to retire -- but are planning one last “hoorah.”

Comments

Looking for a Royal Wedding Watch Party in Pittsburgh?

Looking for a Royal Wedding Watch Party in Pittsburgh?

With the ceremony just hours away, several watch parties and live screenings of the nuptials have already sold out. But we found a few more places in Pittsburgh still taking guests whose invitations got lost in the mail.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

The Strip District restaurant draws a diverse community to its nightly ifṭār buffet.

Comments

Filmmaker David Bernabo Looks Beyond The Menu

Filmmaker David Bernabo Looks Beyond The Menu

He examines the visible yet unseen labor in the service industry with his documentary, "Eating & Working & Eating & Working."

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

When you see a show at one of these organizations, you may enjoy it as much as the children.

Comments

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

Looking to switch up your physical activity now that it finally feels like spring? We found four sports you can play locally that you may never have considered.

Comments


Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

The new escape room in Pleasant Hills is a great game for newer players.

Comments

Phipps Summer Show is Bizarre and Essential

Phipps Summer Show is Bizarre and Essential

At "Gardens of Sound and Motion," Phipps offers giants, living sculptures and more oddities.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

Comments

Penguins’ Epitaph: So Close and Yet So Far Away

Penguins’ Epitaph: So Close and Yet So Far Away

To win the Stanley Cup Championship you have to be good, but you also have to be lucky. The Penguins weren’t enough of either this time.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As of a film, there are issues.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Deadpool 2

The 400-Word Review: Deadpool 2

Can the sequel to the lightning-in-a-bottle superhero hit live up to its predecessor?

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits offers a chance for brides- and grooms-to-be to explore libations before (or instead of) a night on the town.

Comments

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

It was always Ashley Watkins’ dream to have her grandfather perform her wedding ceremony — but a serious illness almost got in the way.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Thinking about starting a creative business but don't know where to start? From photography to interior design, Gamechangers, the new podcast from local textile designer Savannah Hayes, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the design industry from the female perspective.

Comments

Highland Park House Tour Features Architectural Stunners

Highland Park House Tour Features Architectural Stunners

Included on this year’s tour is a 22-room Gilded Age mansion restored to perfection.

Comments