Letter to a Concerned Parent Following News of the SAT Adversity Score
We care so much for our kids. We want to protect them, give them advantages, and set them up for success and happiness in life. Parents go to such incredible lengths to provide opportunities for their children. There is no limit to what parents will do. Parents help their kids navigate the challenging years, the middle school years, the technological perils, the ups and downs of identity formation, and suddenly they arrive at the college admissions process, and many find themselves stressed as never before.
Once we enter the window of college admissions, we are entering a greater level of uncertainty, which can naturally beget anxiety. Things are admittedly different now. There is objectively more competition for selective schools. The price is significantly higher. Emergent technologies render it harder to predict which skills or degrees will lead to future success. Parents are doing their best to help their kids make a thoughtful, informed decision about choosing a college that will be a good fit on many levels.
Sometimes we get news that is upsetting, that challenges our notions of fairness, or leads us to question the system. The Varsity Blues scandal led to a great deal of upset; the perception that the game was rigged for certain individuals. And the news about the College Board’s Adversity Score has led some parents to throw up their hands in frustration- perceiving that their children may be unfairly penalized for factors completely outside of their control.
I recently wrote an article about the Adversity Score, which elicited a response from a concerned father. He was upset by some of the implications of the College Board’s new policy, some of the quotes from admissions officers, and how this change could affect his daughter’s prospects of attending a highly selective college. He also highlighted how middle class families that don’t qualify for financial aid often struggle to afford the soaring costs of tuition. I responded and also shared the response with a colleague whose daughter is going through the college admissions process. My colleague found the letter to be reassuring and helpful, so I’ve decided to share some of the key sentiments in the hopes that they may similarly resonate with other concerned parents.
I told the father that after all the years I’ve worked in the space, it’s my experience that our hard-working students are going to find their path, land on their feet, and move in the direction of their own success.
We tend to place so much emphasis on the location we spend these four short years of college, but in my experience, we are overestimating its relative importance. I told the father:
I think so much of success in life is not tied to name-brand schools, but rather, to how you show up in the world of work, how you treat people, how competent you are. Both my wife and I opted for inexpensive state schools for our graduate degrees, and we’ve had great careers. Once we began paying for school, we were both all about value, rather than prestige, and that has paid dividends. I have friends in their 40s still paying off their school debt. I don’t see the value there.
We will see what happens with the adversity score and the broader national conversation about access, race, class, merit and notions of fairness. I know it feels unfair when your daughter has done everything right, but she might lose a coveted spot on the merits of her identity. That cannot feel good to anyone. As we grapple with income inequality and racial wealth and opportunity disparities, there will be those who benefit and those who suffer. It’s not going to be easy, and not everyone is going to be happy with the outcomes.
I can see it from a high level, a national policy level. And I can slip into the shoes of a dad concerned about the prospects for his daughter. We love our kids. And all we want is for them to have their best shot. I appreciate you sending your thoughts to me, and helping me expand my thinking on this topic. Helps me grow too.
One of my goals in writing these words was to ease some of the pressure on the outcome for this student. She will find her path. I’ve been working with students for nearly two decades, and I’ve seen so many go through this admissions process, and I don’t believe in the magical, transformational power of any one college admissions outcome. I’ve seen students get into their dream school, and find that it’s not a fit. I’ve seen students crestfallen that they weren’t accepted to their top choice yet land on a college experience that catapults them towards an amazing and fulfilling career. To my surprise, many of my own friends who are the most successful didn’t attend the name schools, but have leveraged their talents to rise to the top of their professions. Through that lens, getting into the “right” school is more of an illusion.
We have to help our students find a place they can thrive and develop academically and socially, and yet not take on so much debt as to hurt their future prospects. We can harness our energies towards helping these young people develop the skills they need to prosper for decades, through their future academic, work, or life challenges that lie ahead.