Correcting Inaccuracies and Misconceptions in College Admissions Editorials

A core objective of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog is to correct misconceptions and inaccuracies perpetuated by high school counselors, by private college counselors, by the press, by moms and dads waiting in line at the grocery store discussing the Ivy League merit scholarships their children received (Ivy League schools don’t offer merit scholarships), and by everyone in between. Today, we will address misconceptions and/or inaccuracies published in Forbes editorials by a high school counselor at The Derryfield School in Manchester, New Hampshire, Brennan Barnard. We have taken the time to parse through many of his published Forbes editorials to, in some instances, correct the record or, in other instances, offer a counterpoint to the misconceptions he is perpetuating about the college admissions process. As Mr. Barnard wrote in a February 12 editorial, “We are living in an era of misinformation.” In the world of college admissions, we sure are. And Mr. Barnard’s writings about college admissions are often contributing to that misinformation.

Inaccuracies in Forbes Editorials on College Admissions

  1. In a January 8, 2020 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “There is almost unanimous agreement that the test-optional movement will be one of the biggest shifts in college admission in the coming years, continuing to grow exponentially. How fast and how widespread is tough to pinpoint…” Who exactly is Mr. Barnard speaking for that he can write there is “almost unanimous agreement” that colleges across the land will go test-optional in the years to come? Mr. Barnard is not a spokesman for the college admissions community. In fact, in his subsequent sentence, he even undercuts the bold “almost unanimous agreement” when he writes “how widespread is tough to pinpoint.” If there is almost unanimous agreement that colleges will go test-optional, how can Mr. Barnard then question how widespread the test-optional movement will be? Perhaps Mr. Barnard should cool it with the superlatives. More on the superlatives later.
  2. In a June 13, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “The inability to compare aid packages for low-income students—and increasingly middle-class students—prevents them from making informed choices and only contributes to the student debt crisis.” This hackneyed argument, of course, is not only untrue — it’s dangerous as it discourages the very low-income students Mr. Barnard is referring to from applying to highly selective colleges in the Early round, at a time they’d have increased odds of admission. The fact is a student need not apply to a host of colleges to compare financial aid packages. That student can have a great idea of the aid they’ll receive simply by plugging their numbers in advance — before they apply — into the Net Price Calculator online. It is a federal mandate that all colleges have Net Price Calculators.
  3. In that same June 13, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “The truth is when push comes to shove, school counselors are always going to do what is best for the student.” How can Mr. Barnard profess to speak for all college counselors? How can he possibly say they are always going to do what is best for the student? It’s laughably false. You see, when Mr. Barnard gets carried away with his superlatives, he’s overlooking the school counselors who do right by their schools over some of their students. As but one example, we’ve worked with many boarding school students over the years whose school counselors don’t go to bat for. And why? Because they save their leverage with elite colleges for students who are the third in their families to attend the boarding school. They save their leverage with elite colleges for students whose families have endowed the boarding school. The fact is school counselors at such schools often do not advocate equally on behalf of all their students — they often play favorites — so the suggestion that all “school counselors are always going to do what is best for the student” is as false as 3 + 2 adding up to 6.
  4. In a February 13, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “It is increasingly understood that applying early decision to a college or university often boosts a student’s odds of being admitted. The unfortunate result for some applicants is that they go looking to fall in love with one school, to which they will apply under a binding contract. This manufactured approach rarely ends well and can result in frustration and disillusion.” Oh really? It “rarely” ends well? Mr. Barnard has polled every applicant who was admitted Early Decision to find out if they ended up liking the school to which they matriculated? What was the sample size of his study? The p-value? On what basis can Mr. Barnard possibly conclude that it “rarely” ends well? Because we’ve got over a quarter of a century worth of data to suggest otherwise. Mr. Barnard, don’t write such superlatives that you can’t back up. When you present a fact in an esteemed publication like Forbes, students just might believe it. Here’s hoping they don’t.

Misconceptions Perpetuated in Forbes Editorials on College Admissions

  1. In a November 26, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes that he’s grateful for “Schools that limit the percentage of their incoming class that they accept through early decision and early action policies. At some schools close to half the class is selected through early decision, prompting a frenzy of unhealthy behaviors and fueling inequity.” Colleges admitting students through Early Decision or Early Action does not fuel inequity. Underrepresented minorities, low-income students, and first-generation college students can — and often do — apply in the Early round just like in the Regular Decision round. By arguing that Early Decision and/or Early Action policies fuel inequity, Mr. Barnard is essentially feeding into the misconception that these deserving groups can’t apply Early because they can’t compare financial aid offers. But that’s why these schools have federally mandated Net Price Calculators.
  2. In a September 5, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “If the DOJ is truly concerned about ‘restraint of trade,’ perhaps we should eliminate Early Decision all together. Assuming that is unlikely, the admission profession needs to provide a structure that doesn’t put undue stress on applicants.” It seems Mr. Barnard is no student of Adam Smith. Early Decision policies — offering increased odds of admission in exchange for students making binding commitments to these schools — is not a restraint on trade. It seems Mr. Barnard is confusing business, in this case colleges, offering incentives with interference in a free market economy. And Early Decision policies place undue stress on applicants because they have to commit to one school? Mr. Barnard, applicants are going to have to commit to one school in the end anyway. Your reasoning confounds us, particularly after — later in this same editorial — you chastise the United States Department of Justice for going after the National Association for College Admission Counseling because their “Code of Ethics and Professional Practices” restrains trade. Are you for restraining trade or against it? On Tuesdays you’re for it and on Thursdays you’re against it? Which is it?
  3. In a July 16, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard decries college rankings. As we read his hackneyed argument against college rankings, our eyes couldn’t help but veer to the left — to an advertisement for Forbes‘ latest college rankings. The irony was not lost on us. In any case, Mr. Barnard writes, “When many students and families approach their college search, they default to commercial rankings as reliable indicators of quality and match. The truth is that quality is relative and match is distinctive.” Yes, Mr. Barnard, and water is wet. The fact is when one attends a highly selective university in the United States, one ranked highly by respected publications such as Forbes, a student can find their match — because what an eighteen or nineteen year-old student wants changes. But when one attends a not so selective university, one that doesn’t exactly appear near the top of a ranking like Forbes, well, they’re going to have a tough time finding their so-called “match.” No college ranking is perfect — not even Forbes‘. Who said they were, Mr. Barnard? But, in many cases, they’re as good of an indicator of quality as any.
  4. In a June 28, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard addresses college visits. As he writes, ” If you are trying to get the admission officer to unpack their attrition numbers (how many students leave the school), you should have a sense for how these might compare to national averages.” He goes on, “If the college has an 85% retention rate, ask why are those other 15% leaving” Oh? As though college applicants who are trying to earn admission to highly selective colleges should be asking admissions officers about their transfer rates? Please. That’s like asking a doctor before going into surgery, “How many people have you killed during surgery?” Have some common sense. Mr. Barnard displays no common sense when he writes, “If you are asking about a sensitive issue on campus or an aspect of campus life about which the college is not proud, you might get the run-around. Don’t settle for easy, general answers or diversion tactics. If it is important to you, get a response that satisfies your concerns.” Of course, if you want to get accepted to highly selective colleges, you heed this advice of Mr. Barnard’s at your peril.
  5. In the aforementioned June 13, 2019 editorial, in reference to the University of Virginia announcing a new binding Early Decision policy with a due date of October 15th, Mr. Barnard writes, “October 15th is simply too early for many seventeen-year-olds to decide where they want to go to college.” Oh? Most schools have Early Decision deadlines of November 1st. But October 15th is too early for high school students to decide which college they most wish to attend? Those two weeks make all the difference? Later in the piece, Mr. Barnard argues the Early deadline should be pushed back to January 1st. The fact is high school seniors need to ultimately commit to one college in the end. Why is it so much more difficult for students to commit in mid-October than on January 1st? It’s not!
  6. In that same June 13, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “Early deadlines for college admission really are designed to benefit colleges, not students.” He’s not wrong that Early Decision deadlines are designed to benefit colleges. Colleges care deeply about their yield. They want to admit students who are going to attend. When they admit students through Early Decision, these students are bound to attend. But Early Decision deadlines also benefit students. Our students at Ivy Coach have been benefiting from Early policies for over a quarter of a century. You see, many of our students would not earn admission to their top choice school if such Early policies didn’t exist, if they couldn’t show their commitment to the school(s) they most wish to attend in the fall. So, essentially, we have over a quarter century’s worth of students who have benefited from Early policies to counter this ridiculous assertion that Early policies are designed to benefit colleges, not students. They are designed to benefits students, too, Mr. Barnard!
  7. In that same June 13, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “Despite the rise of community-based organizations and other supports, the reality is that many low-income or under-resourced populations do not have the advantage of being able to visit multiple colleges before applications are submitted. Therefore, their ability to settle so early on a first choice is limited.” We don’t disagree that it can be difficult for low-income students to visit colleges, though many colleges have fly-in programs designed for these very students. But this theory invariably suggests that it’s easier for these students to visit colleges after applications are submitted than before. Why is it less expensive and/or easier for them to visit in the spring as compared to the fall? It’s not!
  8. In a May 16, 2019 editorial, Mr. Barnard writes, “Last October, the executive recruitment firm Kittleman, researched the educational backgrounds of leaders of all Fortune 500 companies to determine the ‘origin stories of prosperous and successful CEOs.’ You get one guess for which undergraduate institution has produced the highest number of executives on this list. If your guess was a member of the Ivy League, you are wrong (though some of those institutions were well represented).” And in that parenthetical, Mr. Barnard seemed to try — it appears desperately — to conceal the actual data on where the Fortune 500 company CEOs went to college. You see, he didn’t happen to mention that Harvard University, as of a few months back, boasts 12 Fortune 500 CEOs, 2 short of the the University of Wisconsin. Or that six Ivy League schools in addition to Stanford University are among the 30 most common alma maters of these Fortune 500 CEOs, as reports Abigail Hess for CNBC.” Mr. Barnard’s spin leaves us, well, dizzy as he attempts to convince people that Ivy League schools essentially aren’t worth it (despite his own obsession with the Ancient Eight which we’ll save for later).
  9. In a December 13, 2018 editorial, Mr. Barnard offers some advice to deferred applicants. He writes, “Ask your regional admission counselor for that college, or your high school counselor, if there are tangible reasons for the deferral that you can address in the coming months.” Of course, Mr. Barnard’s advice to deferred applicants couldn’t be more off-base. Do our readers really think admissions officers want to receive phone calls or emails from deferred students that go something like this: “Why is it that I didn’t get in?” And do deferred students really think they’ll get a truthful answer? No. Deferred students should absolutely not contact their regional admissions officers to find out why they were deferred and even if they do so and find out a reason, it’s highly unlikely that reason is the actual reason the student didn’t get in. Is an admissions officer really going to say, “When you bragged for the fifth time in your Personal Statement, I started not rooting for you?” No! But it’s an absolutely valid reason. Deferred students would be remiss to heed this advice of Mr. Barnard. Rather, deferred students should write one powerful Letter of Enthusiasm to the school that deferred them (and what they write in that letter is everything). A big part of the game in highly selective college admissions is to present yourself as likable. Asking admissions officers why you didn’t get in doesn’t make you likable.

Zeroing in on the Hypocritical Source

We understand that writers can make errors from time to time or get so carried away that they write superlative statements that have no basis in fact. We understand that misinformed writers can even perpetuate misconceptions. That doesn’t upset us. We’ll just take the time to correct the record at every opportunity from atop our soapbox in college admissions.

But what upsets us is hypocrisy. And Mr. Barnard has shown himself to be a hypocrite. Sunlight can be a powerful antiseptic to hypocrisy. You see, one of the main points in Mr. Barnard’s rather humdrum editorials is that the public places undue emphasis on our nation’s elite schools. He seems to put himself out there as a man of the people, as someone who is fed up with the advantages of the privileged. He kind of reminds us, in some ways, of Senator Bernie Sanders. Only we believe Mr. Sanders to be much, much savvier. Mr. Barnard, sir, you are no Bernie Sanders.

You see, the hypocritical Mr. Barnard’s Twitter handle doesn’t feature a profile picture of a young person in a University of Wisconsin tee; it features a picture of a young person in a Yale University tee. That would be like Bernie Sanders featuring a photo of him arm in arm with the 1%! Additionally, Mr. Barnard’s very school — The Derryfield School in New Hampshire (because that isn’t trying too hard to sound elite!) — prominently features photos of students admitted to Brown, Bowdoin, Syracuse, and Penn while not seemingly featuring on their college counseling page photos of admits to Alfred, Drew, Ithaca, and Western New England University. But, Mr. Barnard, graduates of Ithaca too can grow up to become Fortune 500 CEOs…don’t you know? Bob Iger? If not, you should read The Ride of a Lifetime. It’s wonderful!

Mr. Barnard is also the director of college counseling at US Performance Academy, an online high school for competitive athletes: bobsledders, synchronized swimmers, skiers, sailors, and more. Because most students in inner-city Detroit have the opportunity to competitive bobsled after school. Riiight. Mr. Barnard, don’t write so heavy-handedly about the importance of equality in college admissions while you’re helping the world’s bobsledders get into college. Because, unlike in one of our favorite movies of all time, most bobsledders are white and privileged.

And it’s not like Mr. Barnard’s hypocrisy ends there. In a September 28, 2018 editorial for Forbes, he writes a pretend letter to US News & World Report in which he states, “I am writing to respectfully request that you cease and desist the publication of your destructive college and university rankings. These simplistic and misleading classifications of our educational institutions are jeopardizing the health and wellness of our young people, the unity of our families and the sanctity of educating for the common good. Your corporation is complicit in creating an environment where schools compete for status and positioning with diminishing regard for mission and pedagogy.” We notice he didn’t call out the very publication that is posting his articles decrying college rankings (the Forbes rankings are literally, at least at the time of the publication of this post, visible in ads to the left of his article!). It’s like Bernie Sanders calling out the big, bad banks while he takes a paycheck from Wells Fargo! Bernie wouldn’t do that. Say it ain’t so.

Finally, Mr. Barnard called us out in a March 30, 2019 editorial in which he also offered our firm and two of our respected competitors unsolicited business advice. In that piece he wrote, “There are undeniably private educational consultants who prey on the fear and anxiety that families can feel as they navigate admission to college. They market their services with names like Ivy Wise, Ivy Coach and Top Tier Admission that, regardless of how reputable their approach is, immediately hint at what should be valued or aspired to.” Mr. Barnard, the only person who is creating an environment of fear and anxiety is you by perpetuating falsehoods and misconceptions in your writings. And the next time you think to offer us unsolicited business advice, we’ll respond with a screen shot of your Twitter feed next to your piece decrying our overemphasis on elite schools. It says all one needs to know. Bye, Felicia.


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