Terrible College Admissions Advice

Bad College Admissions Advice, College Admissions Advice, Advice on College Admissions

A central objective of our college admissions blog is to debunk misconceptions about the college admissions process. When we read inaccuracies out there in the press, we will correct them — even if it means criticizing a private college consultant for their inaccurate statements (gasp!).

There is an editorial up on “The Huffington Post” by Melissa Chen, who works as a private college consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. The piece is entitled “I’m a College Admissions Consultant, and I Tell My Students to Get Bs.” Our first thought, upon reading the title of the piece, is that we sure hope folks aren’t paying Ms. Chen with real dollars. Monopoly dollars would be ok. But real dollars would be rather wasteful because the title of her piece includes an opinion that is surely among the single worst pieces of advice we have ever heard offered to students applying to highly selective colleges like Ms. Chen’s alma mater, Harvard.

The editorial goes on and on about how America is creating a system in which basically everyone is generic, how standardized testing creates robots, how everyone is too stressed out about the admissions process, etc. All stale and quite boring arguments that everybody and their sister and grandfather’s piano teacher have read before. We get it. Testing is bad and Ms. Chen believes she has an alternative solution — proposing that students get ‘B’s’. And Ms. Chen does assert in her piece that some students end up being more successful after attending non-selective colleges as compared to their peers who attend highly selective colleges (of course this can be the case — duh?). She even name checks that she lived in the same house as our hero, a young man who reinvigorated the New York Knicks just a couple of seasons ago, Jeremy Lin. But we digress.

What we find most astounding about this piece (and there is lots we find astounding) is that Ms. Chen writes: “I try to dissuade my students away from perfection. Naturally, this is not advice that many of them listen to, even if it improves their application’s chances while helping them to live a saner life. But I tell them that if they can save hours of their time by earning B’s instead of A’s in their hardest classes, or by aiming to score 100 points lower on the SAT, they should. College admissions is not scalar — not being perfect is not a point against an applicant’s chances. With the free time gained, I tell them to take the time to enjoy life, to discover what their true hobbies are, to develop passions and intellectual curiosities, to spend idle time with friends.” Ms. Chen is essentially arguing that getting ‘B’s’ will improve a student’s case for admission to a school like Harvard! This couldn’t be further from the case.

If you think a ‘B’ on your transcript will make your application stronger when you apply to Harvard because you’ll come across as more human, you’re wrong. If you think a bunch of ‘B’s’ on your transcript will make you really stand out to a school like Harvard, you must also believe in ghosts. Casper’s cool and all, but oy vey. Ms. Chen professes to work with a couple of dozen students a year from the Bay Area as they seek to gain admission to highly selective colleges of their dreams. These students, and their parents, must genuinely believe in ghosts.


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