Some days ago, we wrote about how President Biden’s staff touted on social media that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s high school counselor discouraged her from applying to Harvard. Judge Brown Jackson, who has since earned both a Harvard undergraduate degree and a Harvard Law degree, is now a nominee to be a United States Supreme Court justice. When we read about Judge Brown Jackson’s school counselor, it immediately brought to mind how former First Lady Michelle Obama also was quite vocal about how her high school counselor discouraged her from applying to Princeton. And we get it. It makes for a great overcoming adversity, defying the odds kind of story. You know. The very kind of story that hangs on a cliché poster in a high school counseling office. Yet while Judge Brown Jackson’s school counselor was clearly wrong since she’d not only get into Harvard but ultimately change the arc of American jurisprudence, we believe it’s a bit ridiculous for school counselors — so many of whom do so much good — to be portrayed in this way. Now, if implicit bias on account of Judge Brown Jackson’s race was a factor, that should be identified and scrutinized. But if the school counselor simply didn’t encourage Harvard because the school counselor thought it was an impossible reach…so?
And it seems we’re not alone. As Jim Jump writes in a piece for Inside Higher Ed entitled “Could That Be Me?,” “I’m hoping there is another side to the story, that the truth is more nuanced than a counselor (“guidance” counselor is an antiquated term, supplanted by ‘school’ counselor) attempting to dissuade a student from following their dreams. I have never told a student that they shouldn’t apply to a particular college. That’s not my job. But I have also at times had a little voice in my head during conversations with students and parents, a voice that sounded exactly like Chris Tucker in Rush Hour asking Jackie Chan, ‘Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?’ Is what I am trying to say what is being heard? That is particularly true when having conversations about chances of admission. As already stated, I would never tell a student they shouldn’t apply to a particular college or university, but I do believe it’s my job to help them understand the realities of the college admissions process.”
We happen to agree with Mr. Jump. You see, we tell students quite regularly that they can’t get into a certain school. You see, for every Judge Brown Jackson there is in the world, there are a hundred young people who believe they have the stuff to get into Harvard. But they don’t. And they need to be told as much because if they’re not told as much, they’re not only setting themselves up for disappointment from Harvard but they’re wasting their super valuable Early card on a school at which they have no chance. There is, of course, an opportunity cost to applying to Harvard when they could have applied to a reach school, like a UPenn, Dartmouth, or Columbia, that they just might have earned Early admission to — but will prove impossible in the Regular Decision round. So, yes, we shoot it straight even at the risk that 30 years from now, we’re cited by a Supreme Court nominee as the naysayer. We can live with that.
And to those folks who have never worked with Ivy Coach and believe that we maintain our strong statistics by regularly pushing students to apply to safe schools, don’t be ridiculous. Our students regularly get into reach schools, schools they would not otherwise earn admission to without our help. But we don’t make impossible dreams come true — and we’re not afraid to say so. Besides, do you really think parents are willing to pay our fees to help their children get into safe schools? We didn’t think so. Should we give those people a bye, Felicia? Bye, Felicia!
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