Four higher education experts share tips and advice for making the right college choice. With Nicole Hurd, founder and CEO of College Advising Corps; Jeff Selingo, education reporter and bestselling author of Who Gets In and Why; Tevera Stith, Vice President for KIPP Through College & Career at KIPP DC; and Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
Hello, and welcome to the College Admissions Decoded podcast, a series from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or as we like to call it, NACAC. NACAC is an association of more than 23,000 professionals at high schools, colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations, as well as independent counselors who support and advise students and families through the college admission process. I’m Angél Perez, CEO of NACAC, and I’m happy to welcome our panel of experts who will explore with us the critical issues and questions that can empower students and families as they make decisions about where to go to college.
We’ll dive into a lot of different topics, including the ways the process has changed as a result of the pandemic, key factors to keep in mind in assessing college and financial aid, and fresh ways of looking at the college choice that will reward the effort in the most effective way for every single student. We’ll tackle the anxieties that college choices can create and the many resources available and the valuable question, is college still worth it?
With me today are three experts who work at both the high school and college levels. Nicole Hurd is the founder and CEO of the College Advising Corps, which is the largest college access program in the country. Jeff Selingo is the bestselling author of three books about college and college admissions, including his latest book, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, which was published in September of 2020 and was named among the 100 notable books of the year by the New York Times. And finally, Tevera Stith is also joining us, who’s worked in college admissions and high school counseling for more than 20 years, and today she serves as the vice president for KIPP Through College and Career at KIPP in Washington, D.C.
Now, because this episode will cover so many timely topics for students and families, we chose to name it The Many Admission Choices in a Changed World. So, I wanted to get us started by actually acknowledging the tremendous anxiety that students and families felt this year. I would say that all of us know, we’ve worked in college admission for a long time, that the process already brings about anxiety for most students, but when you add on top of that a global pandemic and a lot of the uncertainty that students were feeling, it just exacerbates everything.
So, I was wondering if maybe we could demystify some of these things for our audience, and I think maybe I’ll start with you, Tevera, because you’re on the ground, working with students every single day. What did you see this year? How did the process change and how did that impact students?
Tevera Stith: So, I think the general anxiety was just about the ability for college to look like it’s always looked like. We tend to paint a picture of the campus experience and we also paint a picture of the admissions experience. Going on tours, seeing campuses, having your parents go, large visit days, and the question becomes do students have enough information to make a sound decision when they can’t touch, feel, or see a campus right on?
The good thing I would say in terms of the experience of our students is that colleges were so nimble and so ready. I’ve never seen so much creativity in terms of the way students could interact, and I think it did something else. It meant that instead of just the admission office holding the sort of bag around sharing the process with folks, that a lot of times it was a professor on campus, students who went to the campus volunteering to be a part of the conversation. In the admission process at least, I felt like colleges were really nimble. They communicated even earlier about shifts in deadlines or opportunities, like test optional, and so students and counselors really had a great opportunity to reflect, to talk, and to make decisions.
I think in the decision-making process, though, it is still gonna be hard. It is difficult when students go to schools sight unseen, and so now that colleges are at least letting people walk around, I’m hoping that students can see a campus before they make that big decision. But quite honestly, we will still have a number of students who will make the big decision without seeing the school and will also have a number of students who decide to stay closer to home because they’d rather have the comfort of home before they go. It just means that the transfer process I think in a year or two is gonna look very, very different.
Perez: Nicole, you lead a very large cohort of college advisors all over the United States. What are you and the advisors seeing that might be helpful to those that are gonna be entering this process soon?
Nicole Hurd: So, I think what we’re seeing is some clarity from our colleges. I think everybody’s still feeling some anxiety about what is the fall gonna look like, and are we going to be back, and if we’re back, are we gonna be hybrid? Are we gonna be somewhat online? And are we gonna be masked up? And I think there’s been so much heroic activity this year trying to meet each other where we are and trying to bring some transparency to this, but the reality is we also haven’t had a crystal ball this year, right? And I think that crystal ball is going to continue to be foggy for a while. And so, I would say to the upcoming class of 2022, both the parents and the students, to be kind to yourselves, to ask good questions, and to not be afraid to ask questions. I think that’s one of the things we’ve learned during this pandemic, is it’s important to ask questions.
As we go into the summer, campuses are allowing people to walk around outside. They’re not letting people inside yet and not into dorms, or dining halls, or classrooms, but at least you can get a sense of a campus if you walk around it. And when you go to a campus, you need to ask questions. And if you can’t go or you don’t feel safe going, which I completely understand, then we need to take advantage of getting online and doing those online virtual tours, and then don’t just do the tour. Make sure you ask the questions.
So, don’t just be an active bystander as you kind of do this work. Be an active participant as you do this work. And don’t be afraid to ask questions about my child has not done well with online learning. Are you gonna be online or not in the fall? My child has not done will in online learning and they have had some learning loss. How are you all thinking about what freshman year might look like? But Angél, to your question, I think it’s really about asking really thoughtful questions and trying to get as much clarity as we can at a time that’s just not clear.
Perez: And I love that you remind people to be kind to themselves. I think we often forget that during such a difficult time and a difficult process. Jeff, you’ve been talking to the media a lot about lots of different topics recently around what has changed this year in college admissions. So, I’m wondering, share a little bit about what you’ve been sharing with the media.
Jeff Selingo: So, basically everything changed at once, and everything’s been upended. Not only for obviously families and applicants, but also for institutions themselves. And so, we’re going through a period now where institutions, for example, that went test optional and weren’t planning to are now wondering what impact will that have on not only the applicant pool, they saw that a little bit this year, but in terms of who actually enrolls, who yields at the end, and what does that portend for next year?
In many ways, this is getting you ready not only for college, but for the rest of life. As we all know, navigating ambiguity is probably the best job skill that you could have, the best life skill that you could have, because nothing in life is certain. And to me, navigating this admissions process not only for the class of 2021, but also now for the class of 2022, perhaps might give them the skills that will make them better not only citizens, but butter in terms of their academics going forward, as well.
Perez: I really agree with that, Jeff, because I’ve always believed that the college admission process should be educational and a learning tool within itself, so that concept of navigating ambiguity is so important. I want to focus the majority of our time today talking about the students who are just about to embark on this process, but let’s not forget that probably when this episode first airs, there’s still some students who are gonna be making those last-minute decisions. And because colleges and universities may not all fill their classes by May 1, many students might be making some decisions over the summer, as well. So, I’m really curious, particularly Tevera and Nicole, how are you advising your students around making this decision, especially because they can’t visit campuses, they’re not having a traditional experience, how should they be thinking about selecting a college? Nicole, maybe I’ll start with you.
Hurd: So, I’ll go back to my be kind to yourself comment. I’d also say watch for the kindness of others in this process. If an institution treats you like processed cheese this summer, you don’t want to be treated like processed cheese for four years. You know, how we are all showing up right now is really important. Are they answering? Are they being flexible about their financial aid? Are they being clear about what is ahead? Are they charging you over and over again for… Here’s an orientation fee. Here’s a housing fee. Here’s another fee. Or are they being very clear, like this is what the cost is going to be?
I think we’re spending a lot of time right now making sure that students make good decisions, both in terms of the match, the academic experience they’re going to have on a campus, and the fit, and the fit is really around what is it gonna be like socially, what is it gonna be like financially, are you going to have meaningful potential when you’re done without a lot of debt, is it the right distance from home, are you going to be part of a community there? Because I’m a deep believer that it’s not just about recruiting and admitting students. It’s about supporting students once they’re there.
This summer, and as you’re making these decisions, look to see if the support’s there.
Stith: I would have students go back to the beginning of the process if they can even remember if they worked with a college counselor, if they were using many of the online search tools, and what were the fit questions that they asked themselves. Where would they see themselves, what kind of community they would want to be in, and really kind of do a deeper look. Now that you’ve gotten admitted to some schools, you’re kind of looking more closer. Where do you think you’re gonna feel a sense of belonging and what evidence do you have based on the process that you will feel that sense of belonging? Have you talked to at least one alum and one current student?
The other thing that is sort of hard for colleges, a lot of the chat windows and kinds of opportunities students have, they’ve been able to interact with other folks who might join them in the freshman class. Have you found that these people are your community, or do they feel like, “Whoa, these folks are so different from me?” I think students need to judge like, “Do I feel comfortable in this space?” You’ve kind of gotta judge the school a little bit on how nimble they’ve been in the admission process through these virtual channels because that might be how you’re experiencing college in the first semester.
The last point I have is about financial aid. We have experienced students who’ve had upfront financial aid offers. They’ve been so clear. They have their award letters. They have all the information we need. And we have students who have called institutions two and three times to get an award letter. And so, I think those are the same schools where you’re gonna be in long lines waiting to hear about something. You’re gonna be waiting to hear about did this go through, did that go through? Those are the schools where we’re most concerned that kids’ classes get purged because a scholarship hasn’t shown up right away.
And then the final piece is think about your future. Still always think about where you want to be long term and what are schools doing in this context to make sure their seniors are being recruited by top folks? What does the career process look like? For the students that I support, it’s so important that they think about what’s next in terms of their life. And then finally, do not make a college decision unless you have a financial aid award letter. Do not do that and put yourself in a tough spot. It’s important that you have all the information that you need in order to make a decision that’s gonna be financially feasible for your family for the long term. And that’s for every family.
Selingo: Yes. I think that over the summer, students should really be thinking about what do you want out of college and what are the institutions that are going to give that to you. I think mostly college is about people and we have to kind of remember that, and especially over the last year when so many of us missed those face-to-face interactions, particularly with teachers in high school, mentors, counselors, when we go to college, years after somebody graduates, whenever I talk to alumni in my reporting, they tend not to remember something they learned in a particular class, but they remember the people. The coaches, the faculty members, the staff members, the advisors, whoever they might be. And where are you going to go and think about those campuses where those faculty members and those advisors are going to be there for you, particularly now as we start to get back and emerge from this pandemic when I think all of us are going to need not only those human interactions, but that mentoring to try to figure out what from the pandemic might have changed us, might have changed maybe the career track we were thinking about, or just changed college in general and help us guide us through that time.
Perez: I really like that you mentioned the people because as I think back on my college experience, and that was a long time ago, but honestly what I remember most is not the content of the coursework. It was really the people, the faculty, the relationships, and the fact that some of my best friends in life right now are people that I went to college with. So, really doing that research around people and relationship development is important, as well.
I want to pivot a little bit to talk about the students that are starting and families who are starting this process now, but before we actually do that, I actually thought let’s talk big picture. Because I will admit, one of the narratives that is alarming to me, that I am slowly starting to see particularly here in the United States, is this narrative about whether college is worth it. And a lot of people are now starting to ask themselves, “Is it worth it? It’s so expensive. It’s complicated. Could I live a good life without it?” And so, I’m just really curious what… You all obviously dedicate your life to the pursuit of college access. What do you say to your families who ask you is college worth it? Might start with you, Nicole.
Hurd: It is still the best investment we can make in ourselves is the bottom line, right? I think especially in this country, we tend to be okay when we think about debt for a house, we think about a mortgage, we think about debt for a car, but the reality, your education, if you do it well, is going to be much more valuable than a house or a car. It’s the one thing that can never be taken from you. And so, I think it’s really about getting clear about what a good value education looks like.
One of the beautiful things about education in this country is its diversity, right? We have community colleges, we have four-year schools, we have big schools, we have small schools, we have historically Black colleges, we have minority serving institutions, we have women’s colleges, we have this just incredible diversity. In some ways, I think people get lost because when they think college, they only think of one of those things maybe, and they also sometimes think about what we see in the media, which is the student debt crisis. And I’m not saying that we don’t have a student debt crisis, but if you look at where that debt is held, it’s really held most of it in one sector, which is in the for-profit sector.
I would say to people let’s be clear and it’s about looking at a school where you will have a meaningful credential, whether that’s a two-year credential or a four-year credential, that has value in the market when you’re done, where you will not have too much debt, that will propel you forward. Because the reality is if you look at the decline we had in 2008, if you look at what’s happened in the pandemic, the people that fare best in terms of stability are the people with a college degree. And if you look at what this global economy is doing, especially coming out of this pandemic, most jobs are going to require some kind of postsecondary education. So, it’s really about not getting scared by what we see on the TV set or what we see in the media, but taking a deep breath and saying, “What is my dream and where can I be financially sustainable?”
As we all know, the best thing about education is not just what it does for you. It’s what it does for your family. And not just in a job situation. As we know, healthcare access goes up with a college education, voting participation goes up with a college education, but they need to make choices where they’ll have a meaningful degree, and they don’t have too much debt.
Selingo: The thing I think is not worth it is going to a college that’s not going to support you in staying there, is not gonna support you in getting to graduation, and is gonna put you deep in debt. And I think of all the conversations that we’re having about college right now and higher education in the United States, and particularly about the debt, but the group of students that I worry about the most are those students who have started college and didn’t finish, because one thing that we know in this country is that a college degree, whether it’s a two-year degree or a four-year degree, is a ticket to so many jobs. It’s the minimum ticket to ride for so many jobs.
And so, if you go to college and do not get that degree, and even if you earn some credits, there are very few jobs that say, “No college degree required, but we’d like some credits.” In some ways, I think behind high school graduates, because maybe they’ve already been in the job market and most important, they don’t have any debt. So, to me, college, no doubt about it, it’s worth it, but make sure that whatever you’re going to do, and working with your mentors, and working with your counselors, and others, that you’re going to a place that’s going to support your travel through that institution and get you to graduation with reasonable debt.
Stith: We dial down every day that college is worth it as an experience. I think what we’ve also realized is that the timing of college doesn’t have to be immediately after high school. I think it’s important that students are realistic with themselves and their families about whether or not this has to be a ladder approach. You do this, then you do this, then you do this. Versus thinking about it as a lattice approach. So many colleges are embracing those who are a little bit older going through the process, so what we advise students is think about your passion, think about your purpose, and make a plan.
And so, if it means that you say for most of our students, 75 to 80%, it will be directly going to a four-year or a two-year institution and we applaud that because when we think about students who come from underserved communities or low-income backgrounds, the reality is changing the financial trajectory of your family is most likely if you have a degree. However, for students who say, “I’m not sure I’m ready,” we say pause. Do a certification program. Have some work experience so that you can better direct your plan toward college.
What we’ve found as a result is that students who take that pause are more excited and more ready for college when the time comes and in particular, some of our students who’ve chosen the military, I get so excited because they call me back and they’re like, “I’m taking classes now.” And so, I think what we’ve done in education is say you have to do it first, second, or third. What I love is that we have young people now who are starting to say, “That is a part of my plan, just not initially.” And when you make it a part of a larger plan for your life, there is always return on investment when you’ve done that research and you’ve really been heart first and then head along with what the next steps are.
Perez: So, I want to turn our attention now to those families and students who are just starting this process, right? Maybe they’re juniors in high school who are just beginning to think about this. I wonder if we could just do kind of a round robin and each one of you give one piece of advice. How would you advise them to start thinking about this process? Jeff, why don’t we start with you this time?
Selingo: Somebody said earlier the diversity of our colleges and universities. The one thing that we have to remember is there are thousands of colleges and universities out there. So, even if you say, “Well, okay, how about the four-year colleges and universities maybe somebody’s actually heard of,” or something like that, right? We’re still talking about 1,200, 1,300, 1,400 schools. What frustrates me is that we tend to talk about 12, 15, 20 schools, and so for most Americans who are entering this process for the first time, they think that’s all that’s out there. They think there may be 20, 25 schools.
And one of the things that we have to realize is that start the process by focusing less on the names and much more on your goals, what you want out of this process, and the types of institutions that you might be a better fit for. In your town, you probably have a community college or a nearby community college. You might have a big state university. You might have a small private college, or an urban private college, or you might have a small liberal arts college. If you can get to one of those places near your hometown, just go to see what that’s like. Don’t worry about the name at the front. You may never want to apply to that place but get a feel for what these different types of places are. Forget about the names. Think more about what your goals are and start to think generally about the types of schools, then start to put the names of the schools to that list.
Perez: Fantastic. I worked on a college campus for many years and when families would come to visit, I would always say there’s a feeling you get when you walk on a college campus. You either know this is the one, or this is not, and so walking around is so critical. Tevera, what about you?
Stith: I’m gonna hew this toward the parents who might be listening because I think sometimes kids matter, but parents have opinions that they don’t freely share, or they kind of sit on the sidelines and say, “It’s okay.” And then when the student gets ready to make the final decision, they’re like, “No. I hate that school.” And so, what’s important I think is that families have real life conversations about this. So, my best suggestion is a little bit of an exercise, and that’s that parents and students sit down with separate pieces of paper, maybe on two different sides of the room, and kids write what are the seven things that are most important to you when you think about a school, and parents do the same, and then they kind of do a little hierarchy, and then they share those lists.
The reason why this exercise is so important as students go into the process is that we get a sense of what student is looking for versus what mom and dad are looking for. It amazes me sometimes when students are like, “I want a sense of adventure. I want a place where I can explore.” And parents are like, “I want security and safety.” How does that translate as they’re starting to look through the process and thinking about what they’re gonna do?
So, I want to make sure everybody there is on the right road. The other thing is not all families are structured the same, so not every student is coming home to mom and dad. There might be grandma and grandpa and other lifelines. If they’re someone who supports you in the process or who will, your mentor, who is your lifeline? Do the same activity with them. Who are the influencers in your life? I’ve realized when I’ve been working with some of our students the biggest influencer might be their big brother and big sister. And so, I’ll say, “What does your big sister think about what’s next for you since she’s always been your support?” And those kinds of open conversations make a difference.
Perez: So, let’s get a little bit more logistical. Financial aid and paying for college. As you can imagine, it’s top of mind for most of our listeners today. And so, I’d really love to hear how your thinking might have changed over time around advising families around how they pay for college and maybe helping to demystify a little bit around merit aid and financial aid. So, Tevera, I might go back to you since you’re in the thick of this right now.
Stith: One of the things that we can definitely do at the start is making sure students have a clear sense of how much college is gonna cost. Colleges should know what their projected cost is for next year. They should be able to tell you what the room and board is and what the fees are, so it’s really important that you lay all of those things down on the line. The other piece that I think is important for us is to think about what is the aid that I’m getting that’s grants and scholarships, there’s no need for me to pay it back, and what are the parameters of that aid? Nothing breaks my heart more than when a student realizes that the scholarship they got is really only for one year or two year.
The other big question that students have to ask, particularly those who have been very active in seeking outside scholarships, is how that college is gonna treat those scholarships. At some schools if you get a scholarship from somewhere else, they take away the aid that they were gonna give you. Are you going to a school that first is gonna say, “Well, then let’s lessen your loans. Let’s lessen what your parents have to pay. Let’s not take away from the scholarships we were gonna give you.” It breaks my heart when students have done all of that work and then they find themselves in a place where it hasn’t helped at all in terms of certain schools.
And then finally, parent plus loans. A lot of times schools will put parent plus loans and work study on a financial aid package like, “Oh, this is covered.” With work study, you have to get the job, and you have to earn the money in order to have those funds. And with parent plus loans, this is an application process that happens every year. It’s a credit application. And parents need to know about the additional debt that they’re taking on. I’m not saying parent plus loans are bad altogether. I want parents to be invested in the process and decide to do it. What I am saying is if a parent plus loan is of a certain amount, parents need to not think about borrowing that amount of money for one year, but for multiple years.
And then the final thing I would say, particularly to our families who are actually full income, is looking at the increase of tuition over time. Is there a school where the rate of increase in tuition is so high that you can make it work the first year but it’s gonna be a struggle in the final years? Those are some things that I’m having students really think about. What’s the total cost? What are the sort of scholarships and grants I have? How am I navigating parent plus loans? And what’s the increase in tuition over time?
Selingo: The thing that I want to encourage families to do is to really move up the financial conversation earlier in the search process. Kind of before you fall in love with a place. You know, college is a really emotional decision in many families. We fall in love with these places. And we have a lifelong affinity with them in a way that we don’t really have a lifelong affinity almost with anything else that we purchase. And that’s the key point. We’re purchasing something here. This is a consumer decision, just like when we’re purchasing a house, a car, or anything else in life, and I think that we let emotion take over too early in the process.
And then we fall in love with the place, and then that’s when I think parents, and students, and everybody just stretches, because we think, “Well, you know, this is the only place in the world for us and we really want to go there,” and we stretch financially. And so, if we move up the financial fit of the conversation early on, what are we willing to go into debt for, what is the four-year cost of these colleges using the net price calculator and other venues that are available to us? What are the aid policies of this school? Does the college continue your financial aid package after that first year? These are questions that I think you have to ask up front before you fall in love with that place emotionally.
Once they have you hooked emotionally it’s really hard to disaggregate that from paying for college.
Perez: I still remember so vividly as an admission dean how many families would come and the parents would send their child off on the tour, and this is this time of year, in April, and then they would run to my office and say, “Can I have a conversation with you? I don’t want to talk about affordability with my child.” And it did make me a little sad because I thought, “Wow. This is like a week before you need to make this decision.” And hopefully as a family there’s some transparency there about not only what you can afford, but what you might be willing to pay, so having that conversation earlier is critical.
Nicole, what about you?
Hurd: Make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples. I think it’s really difficult to understand what a college is offering you and if you’re looking at multiple offers, you really need to again, take out that sheet of paper and as much as you can, translate those award letters, because they are not all the same, and make sure you understand. Is this multiple years of funding? Is this one year of funding? What is a loan? What is a grant? If you can’t do that, make sure you find a caring mentor, adult, counselor, call the financial aid office, but find somebody that you can go through those documents with because like you said, all aid awards are not the same, and you really need to compare apples to apples. Because what might look really great, once you dig in, you might find out is not so great.
Perez: That’s a great point, Nicole, and a wonderful reminder to seek out your high school counselor, your advisor, a trusted source who’s going to make sure that you’re reading all of the information correctly. Very, very important. So, I’m wondering if you could each share one or two resources that you usually share with students and families as they’re getting started with this process. I’ll start with you, Nicole.
Hurd: So, College Board’s BigFuture site is a good place to go. There’s resources on NACAC’s site, so give a shoutout to Angél and all the great work that people can find there. And I would go to the colleges’ sites themselves. What I’d be wary of are random websites, random threads, random things that are chat rooms, and let me just say never, ever pay someone to fill out your FAFSA, to help you with your college admissions from a website. There’s a lot of snake oil frankly in that space. So, if you’re all of a sudden finding yourself putting your credit card number into a website, that’s a bad, bad sign. Please go with what we all know is kind of what I’d say name brand, trusted sources. The colleges themselves, NACAC, the College Board, places where you can use tools and calculators that belong to trusted sources.
CollegePoint, which is a partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies, College Advising Corps, and a couple of other nonprofits, they have a website. You can just google CollegePoint. There’s a way to access counselors through that process. Common App is a place where you can reach out. They’re doing more work to… including with the College Advising Corps, to connect applicants to mentors. I would say this: The same thing is true when you’re in college, right? You need to go to office hours and get to know your faculty when you get to college. Not because you have a problem. As a matter of fact, don’t wait until you have a problem. Make those connections now. I would say to our high school students and parents that it’s the same thing goes with counselors. Don’t wait. Even if they’ve got a huge caseload. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis. Go introduce yourself now. Our advisors will always say there’s students that find them and then there are the students they have to find.
Be one of those students that find them, right? Don’t be the one that has to be chased down the hall. Be the one that actually shows up in the office. Your counselor is somebody that you should actively seek out because of our caseloads, and counselors also can guide you to other people that they trust, right? Counselors have networks of other supports.
I should also say we launched our own podcast at College Advising Corps this year that we have a… what we call our Knowledge for College Podcast, and that’s really interviewing advisors, so if you want to hear from first gen, low income, and underrepresented advisors and students themselves about this journey, you should check out our podcast.
Perez: Fantastic. And you said that was Knowledge for College? Fantastic. Thanks, Nicole. Jeff, how about you?
Selingo: Something that I love to suggest to parents and students, especially if you’re kind of a data nerd in a way, is to look at the common dataset sheet that colleges fill out every year. It’s for all the magazine rankings and all the other information sources that are used. You can just Google the name of a school and the common dataset. Not every school puts it up on their institutional website, but on their institutional research website, you might find other data. And just look through that, because it will tell you everything about admissions, how many students they’ve accepted, how many students they put on the waitlist. It will look at test scores if they use them. It will look really deep at financial aid and how much money they give out financial aid, and average packages, and things like that.
Stith: I’m gonna hew toward what Jeff has said with a resource that I use often with students and families, and I actually use it with our teachers, as well, to demystify the process, and that’s College Results. We use College Results a lot, because we’re really hyper focused on graduation rates, and what I love about College Results is that the comparison of graduation rates not only includes sort of specific years, so you can see the trajectory of the college. Is the graduation rate going up? Is it going down? But it also allows you to look at other specific social identifiers, like race. It allows you to look at race, and gender, and those kinds of things.
The reason why that’s important is that a lot of times schools will say, “This is how many BIPOC students we have on campus.” But then when you look at that graduation rate, you’ll say, “Wow, you’ve got some entry, but those students aren’t actually exiting. Why aren’t those students exiting?” I think for the African American males and Latinx males we serve, it has been demystifying when they’ve looked on and said, “You know, as an Af-Am male or as a Latinx male, I’m 20% less likely to graduate from this school than my other sort of Black female counterpart or Latinx female counterpart. Why is that? What are the support services that aren’t available on campus?” So, that resource has been great.
And it has also been great for me to look at the difference between four, five, and six-year graduation rates. Who are the schools where the four-year graduation rate is a little scary? They get to you at six years, but what does that mean financially for a student if most of the students are taking five or six years? So, that’s a resource I really like.
One we never talk about and I think we should always point students to is the college profile for your high school. This is the special little sheet of paper that your college counselor comes up with or the school administrators do that they send to colleges to kind of describe what the curriculum looks like in your school. I think this is particularly important for juniors. It usually shows like what is your high school describing as their top courses? How many APs do they list? How many IB courses do they list? It also usually lists the colleges that students have most recently gone to.
If you’re a student who’s looking at schools that students at your school have not typically gone to, I’m looking at really specific programs that my counselor may not know about, and we’re gonna learn and be educated together. So, what does your school say about itself? Because as an admissions person in my years, I would go back to the profile and say, “Okay, where does this student fit in the class if I’m looking at competitiveness and those kinds of things?” And while sometimes they may not have the newest version of the profile for your specific class, they will have last year’s. What did they share as a profile? So, I would look at that.
Perez: Fantastic. Thank you, Tevera. With the couple of minutes we have left, I actually want to end on a more personal note. So, I guess I would love to end by each of you going around and telling us, why did you choose to do this work and more importantly why do you stay, and I see Nicole smiling, so I’ll start with her.
Hurd: I’m the product of two first-generation college graduates. I think about my parents all the time, especially as they get older, and my mother went off to college from a humble background and she wanted to be an engineer. She actually started as an engineer. She didn’t finish as an engineer because women in the late ‘60s weren’t engineers, and I’ve watched her kind of navigate that dream deferred her whole life. And then my father is a first-generation college graduate. He’s also a first generation American. First on his side of the family to be born here. And you know, if it wasn’t for a mentor who said, “Larry, you can do this,” and who literally drove him down to college and left him on the steps, he wouldn’t have gone to college himself.
And so, I think about back to why I do this, it’s the advising, right? My mom had some dreams deferred because she didn’t get the advising and she was in a space where she was kind of trying to shatter ceilings and it didn’t quite happen. And my father literally had his whole life changed because a caring mentor decided to take him to a campus. And so, it’s my job now to pay that forward, and so I’m very aware that I’m shattering ceilings that my mom didn’t get to shatter because I’m standing on her shoulders. And I am lifting up my father’s experience and making sure that I can be that person. I might not be driving people to the steps the way that mentor did for my dad, but I can drive as many as I can through advisors, and through the internet right now, and through Zoom calls, et cetera, to make sure that they actually achieve their potential, as well.
Perez: I love this concept of we’re paying it forward, right? We have benefited and are making sure the next generation benefits, as well. How about you, Jeff?
Selingo: You know, in some ways a similar story. My mother didn’t go to college. My father wanted to be a musician and his parents thought he needed a real job, so they said, “You have to become a schoolteacher if you’re gonna become a musician.” And so, he became a high school music teacher and still had his… thankfully, was able to pursue his dream of being a musician on the side while teaching his entire life. But I think about all I know about higher education today, and admissions after doing this for 20 years, and I think, “But why should I only have that information? Or why should only all of us on this podcast have this information? This information should be widely available to everybody.”
And I think about my high school and how little information we had. We had really dedicated teachers and counselors, but we just didn’t have this wider view that all of us are very lucky and privileged to have today. And that’s really what has made me remain in covering higher education, because not only do I think it’s important to civic life, to our own financial health, and to our actual physical health, but that I want people to have all the information to make the best decisions that they can make for their life because I didn’t have that when I was 18, and I wish I did.
Perez: Thank you, Jeff. And Tevera, you have dedicated your whole career to this work, so why and why do you stay?
Stith: When I think about the process as a Black woman, as an African American woman, the access to education certainly wasn’t there because of the racial divide in this country and systemic racism, so I remember my grandmother telling stories about how all she ever wanted to do was learn how to play the fiddle and go to college, and neither of those were things that she was allowed to do because she was a woman. And she made sure that every opportunity I had, that I could go. And then I remember my mom, who never completed school, saying she wanted to go to school in California, but her parents weren’t for that.
And so, here are two women who were extraordinary but weren’t able to achieve because of either societal norms or the fact that people weren’t allowing them to take risk, and so in this process, the reason why I love this time of year is because we’re really opening the funnel up for students to dream big. And there is nothing more exciting than sort of pouring into students the possibilities that could be available to them that they’ve not even thought about. And I think college does that.
I also think college is a unique place, so I think I do it for the history, and for my ancestors, and for folks who didn’t have the opportunity, but I also do it for the bright horizons that are ahead, and if we don’t expose students to this kind of important experience, then we are shutting out the possibilities for our nation and our world. And so, college is still the most unique place to get to know yourself, and get to know others, and network for your future, and for us all to see the change that’s possible in the world.
Perez: Well, I think that is the perfect place to end. I want to thank all of my guests today for joining us, for the wonderful advice that they have imparted on the families that are either making the decision right now about where they’re going to college, or embarking on this process, and thank you for inspiring us with your stories, as well. Thanks for being here.
College Admissions Decoded is a podcast from NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling. It’s produced by Lantigua Williams & Co. This episode was recorded by AirsNext and mixed by Kojin Tashiro. If you’d like to learn more about NACAC’s guests, our organization, and the college admissions process, visit us on the web at www.nacacnet.org, and that’s N-A-C-A-C-N-E-T dot org. Please leave a review and rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Your feedback helps shape the show.
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