I understand why my co-worker's son, who was initially interested in a small liberal arts college in Michigan where he could play his sport of choice, but whose mom was born in another country and confused by the application process, whose father is deceased--found it easier to pursue a possible career in the Air Force. The Air Force recruiter walks you through the process, step by step. They make it easy.
Last spring I was very puzzled by an Ann Arbor News supplement--you know, the graduation supplement? That is (I guess I should say "was") the one that profiles the top 5 students from every school in the county. Some of these kids can really knock your socks off, and they are all--every single one of them--overachievers. Most of the ones from Ann Arbor told the News they were going to small private schools, the University of Michigan or Michigan State University. But take a look at the ones from some of the outlying areas: Willow Run, Whitmore Lake, Manchester, Chelsea... All of a sudden, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State, and even Washtenaw Community College pop up as probably school choices. Washtenaw Community College for a valedictorian or salutatorian? That makes no sense at all.
I have nothing against any of those schools, but now that I am experiencing the college application process "up close and personal," I have a different take. All of these students--we are talking the top five in the class--are strong candidates for UM, MSU, and, yes, small private colleges. Those students who don't have money could probably get financial aid. But I'll bet that a lot of them never applied.
Why? The application process is intimidating. The financial aid process? Even more intimidating. Yes, even to those of us who have been to college and graduate school ourselves. The applications are primarily online. What if you don't have a computer at home?
A few years ago, I had an intern who grew up in a working-class school district in Macomb County. She was one of the top 10 students in her graduating class. In 11th grade, she went to her counselor and said, "What do I need to do to get into the University of Michigan?
Replied her counselor, "I have no idea."
Really? Then why are you working as a school counselor?
Is it any wonder that she reports to me that of her graduating class, one student went to an Ivy League school; 2 or 3 each went to the University of Michigan and Michigan State; a handful went to Oakland University, Wayne State, or Eastern Michigan; a bigger handful went to Macomb Community College, and the majority did not pursue any higher education at all. Nada. Zip.
School counselors have difficult loads. But colleges also expect them to write letters of recommendations for their students. This year, at Pioneer High School, I understand that all of the seniors have been assigned to one counselor; one counselor, who has never met a lot of them before. Do you think that counselor will be able to do a good job writing letters of recommendation?
Even worse--because it does not relate to their workload--are the counselors who cannot advise students on how to apply to the excellent state schools that we have in Michigan.
Worse still are the counselors--and I just heard a story about one of these the other day--who tell students who indicate an interest in applying to schools which are in their range, or even "reach" schools--"Oh, don't bother, you will never get in."
Why don't you let the college or university decide?
Counselors, listen up: If you don't know how to help students apply to the colleges of their choice, then you either need to learn, or you need to get a different job.
Do you ever wonder how we, as a society, perpetuate class differences? This is how.
As Langston Hughes wrote so beautifully:
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
like a heavy load.