Spring Harvard

Parents and College Admissions

Parents beware — the process of admissions of your child to top-tier colleges can be fraught with anxiety. Unless, that is, you’re prepared for the difficulties you’ll encounter as you and your child wend your way through this complex maze.

Ivy League and other elite private institutions don’t conduct their admissions processes solely on the basis of merit, a fact that often comes as an unpleasant surprise to parents.

Let’s consider two subsets of successful applicants for whom academic merit isn’t the only factor extant. The first are students admitted due to the preferential legacy treatment afforded the children of alumni. The second are students admitted because they’re members of underrepresented minorities being recruited under the institution’s diversity policy. Although all students in both subsets have impressive academic credentials, these credentials are but part of the determinants in their admission. The former subset reflects the belief that generations of support deserve special weighting. The latter reflects the belief that, in connection with their goal to achieve diversity, the school can partially redress past injustices.

We call any characteristic like those above that add to an applicant’s appeal beyond their academic record a “hook”. There are many seats in freshman classes that are awarded to applicants with strong hooks. These include students who were admitted through family connections or minority status. Add to these those applicants who are admitted because they possess a talent that’s in demand at a particular school such as, for example, athletes, musicians, veterans, visual artists, or public services prodigies. The total of these three subsets of applicants can account for up to 50% of a freshman class. None of them are admitted solely as a result of merit. There are no slackers among them, but they may not have the best academic records among all applicants.

IvySelect recommends strongly that students make full use of legacy status, if available, and/or develop a talent that, as a hook, will be sought after at least some elite institutions. Only after applicants with strong hooks have been admitted does merit figure as the sole criterion. This is when the competition becomes even fiercer.

Because the academic caliber of the institution is at stake, and since it must be as high as possible overall, the unhooked students enter a hyper-competitive pool the likes of which parents who graduated decades ago can’t even imagine.

Outside of hooked students, colleges are looking for the most intelligent, accomplished, and promising students in the applicant pool. Because the number of applicants increases annually and the competition gets increasingly more intense, the students who make this cut are truly dazzling. Who remains after the winnowing process are applicants who are incredibly strong academically and are also proven to be creative, original thinkers and doers.

The evidence is all there in the admissions statistics. Parents need to be aware that the vast majority of applicants to the most highly selective schools just won’t make the cut. This is often a bitter pill for parents and their high-achieving children. It is especially difficult to accept if the student has sacrificed many of the pleasures of a low-stress adolescence and enjoyable high school experience for the sole purpose of getting into a top school.

“Tiger Mom” is a term coined by Amy Chua in her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It describes a loving but strict, demanding mother who pushes her children to gain admission to the most highly selective colleges through extremely high academic performance and talent development. Chua’s approach is considered too extreme by many parents, who believe such harsh measures to do more harm than good. Moreover, they don’t assure the desired outcome… although they did in Chua’s case. Is this the kind of behavior that you plan to emulate?

With IvySelect as your college admissions consulting firm, you are relieved of the need to be your child’s admissions cop. Your child will be under our calm, reasoned, expert guidance, enabling you to avoid any unpleasantness that might have occurred had you been intensely involved yourself.

We want your child to find a great fit and to thrive in college. One of the tasks on which we collaborate with your child is the development of a list of 12 or 13 elite institutions that he or she will target for admission. They will range from your child’s dream school down to one or two less elite but still appealing safety schools.

As for parents, we want you to feel that you made the right choice in hiring IvySelect as your child’s elite college admissions counselor. Our goal is to convince you beyond any doubt that hiring IvySelect was the best choice you made in advancing your child’s academic success.

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