The recent admission scandal holds a mirror to the situation in American education. On the one hand, it brings up the legitimate question of how fair the US university admissions process really is. As such, the scandal has the potential to undermine trust in educational consultants who may be seen as facilitators of parents’ dubious machinations with the admissions system. On the other hand, it also forces us to ask how far we — parents, people in the education business, citizens — should push our kids.
Having spent years helping students from all over the world achieve their dreams of education in the United States, my team and I have encountered many situations in which families try to have their children accepted to schools that would not be right for them. I have always been adamant that Hermiona’s mission is not only for our students to get enrolled into top educational institutions in the United States — but to actually thrive there.
The unfortunate truth is that while parents’ motivations are understandably governed by their seemingly-noble desire to ensure their children’s success, parents often tend to rely on their own definitions of success, rather than looking at the bigger picture, as a third party observer might be able to do. Consequently, parents sometimes forget to consider what it will be like for their children during the four years between receiving the admission letter and degree from a prestigious school. Will the child be excited, motivated, and successful during these formative years of their lives, or will they be stuck in a slump, barely keeping their heads above water as they scramble to finish their work with no time for personal growth?
Alexandra Robbins, author of The Overachievers, wrote in the Atlantic that “parents desperately want to believe that by controlling the system, they can guarantee success for their children, even if it’s a narrow, superficial, winner-take-all definition of that word.” As we now know, “controlling the system” may include paying off coaches to lie about athletic prowess or test administrators to change answers. While most parents’ actions are usually not nearly as malicious, they are not harmless: they try to make their children fit into the Procrustean bed labeled “Stanford” or “Harvard,” while completely ignoring the fact that the child’s professional growth and social adaptation might proceed at a much faster pace at University of Wisconsin - Madison or Boston University.
One the other hand, at Hermiona we have also seen the other side of this coin. A mother of one student was determined to get her daughter into Princeton. We helped the student develop the extracurricular activities (sports, leadership, volunteering within her area of academic interest, an internship followed by paid work in local journalism) and grades to get accepted. Our tutoring team also helped her raise her standardized test scores to a more than passable level. The student herself, however, had never once expressed any enthusiasm for her mother’s choice: she preferred a school that was lower in the overall rankings and less academically rigorous than Princeton, but higher ranked in her particular academic interest. Our team ultimately decided that if she did end up at Princeton, it would be unlikely that she would succeed there. We explained the situation to the parent but were asked to proceed, regardless. Since we assume responsibility for our services not only to parents but to their children, we found ourselves ethically bound to negotiate an exit to our contract.
Conversely, we had a student whom we helped to transfer from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At first, the family was very hesitant to make this decision and it took us a long time to convince them that this would be in his best interest long-term. MIPT is known as one of the top technical universities in Russia, while few Russians have heard of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, even though it is considered one of the top universities in the world for computer science. Two years later, the student went on to work for one of the top hedge funds in Russia. In other words, he succeeded not by being pressured to conform to a specific brand, but by studying at a school that was the right fit for him. If there is one takeaway for parents from this post, it is that giving students the freedom to choose and to explore might be more important to their success than just a prestigious university name. Put another way:
Buyer, beware! Because even if your child gets accepted to your “dream school,” this might not make their dreams come true. #2019collegeadmissionsbriberyscandal #WilliamRickSinger #admissionsdecisions #collegeadmission #KeyWorldwideFoundation