One of the core objectives of this college admissions blog is to keep admissions leaders, high school counselors, and private college counselors honest. It’s also to debunk commonly held misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process — misconceptions so often perpetuated by these very groups. Over the years, we’ve come across one such high school counselor who puts forward more misconceptions about the admissions process in the press than just about everyone else combined. That high school counselor? Brennan Barnard of The Derryfield School, a man who very much professes to be anti-elitist, lamenting America’s obsession with top universities from atop his perch at the fancy schmancy independent school in New Hampshire — all as he features a kid not in UConn gear on his Twitter handle but in Yale gear. All as he advises bobsledders, skiers, and sailors through the admissions process as the director of college counseling at US Performance Academy. All as he himself is obsessed with elite schools — and if our understanding of the psychological science of projection is right — likely because he didn’t attend a very good college himself either at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Sorry, Franklin & Marshall and the University of Vermont!
So what kind of misconceptions is Mr. Barnard perpetuating most recently? In a piece for The Concord Monitor entitled “The College Guy: What testing changes should students know?,” the man of the people writes, “When it comes to admission and standardized testing, if the college provides the option for you not to have scores considered, they mean it. Despite the public skepticism, it will not hurt you if you choose not to submit testing. That said if you were able to take the SAT/ACT and you have scores you are proud of, by all means, send them in, as they are just another way of telling your story in the application. Yes, optional really means optional, so go eat your dinner and don’t obsess about admission tests.”
And everything you just read by Mr. Barnard, of course, is malarkey. All else being equal, students with great test scores will always have an advantage over students who don’t submit test scores — in spite of Mr. Barnard’s words to the contrary. While the man of the people may suggest, with such conviction we might add, that “it will not hurt you if you choose not to submit testing,” that’s simply untrue. And if it were true, then more elite universities would release the percentage of students who did and didn’t get in with and without test scores. They wouldn’t keep these figures so close to their vests. Of the few elite universities that have released such data, it’s clear that students who submitted test scores enjoyed an advantage in the admissions process over those who did not. We also should not ignore the comments made to major news outlets by admissions czars at elite universities. As but one shining example, Cornell’s vice provost for enrollment, Jonathan Burdick, said to The New York Times: “We saw people that thought ‘I would never get into Cornell’ thinking, ‘Oh, if they’re not looking at a test score, maybe I’ve actually got a chance.'” Who ever would have given them that funny idea, Mr. Burdick?
As loyal readers of our college admissions blog know all too well, we’ve got heroes and villains in elite college admissions to keep things interesting. Mr. Barnard, for the misconceptions about college admissions that he perpetuates regularly in the press, makes our short list of villains.
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