Be Real

Steve Singer, director of college counseling at Horace Mann School in the Bronx since 1985, is just one recent voice in the growing din that rises from the tumult of those of us ‘who know’ in education. And to what end do we heralds cry out? Don’t buy into the hype and pressure that our media and culture propagate; don’t succumb to the SAT obsession and the branding of big name schools. In short, “Feel free. Be yourself.” Consider Steve’s remarks:

But if [applicants] and their bedraggled parents — poor and otherwise — want to “beat” the system, they have to give up a most cherished fantasy, reinforced every waking minute by friends, relatives, dry cleaners and, if you are so fortunate, the doorman: you attend a “name” college, or you are relegated to the dustbin of human existence.

Do not let them do this to you. Rebel. Be ornery. This is a buyers’ market. Take advantage. Have a great senior year. Apply to the usual suspects. They are good colleges. But write your applications in your own voice. What do they want? The average admissions officer works about 70 hours a week for a salary that will require at least one roommate in a tiny apartment. She or he can’t spend more than, say, 15 minutes per application.

I have incredible institutional pride for my alma mater. Whitman is my home, my community, and my biggest credential. It represents a sort of ‘Golden Age’ in my life and embodies some of the values I hold most dear. My best friends all seem somehow connected to this place. There is literally no end to the satisfaction I get when talking to families from Alaska, southern California, Arkansas, Oregon, Maine, Australia, Andrha Pradesh, Xi’an… and the list goes on. Whitman has a name. This place means something, and not only to me. How else could I get through those 60+ hour winter weeks?

Still, I spend the majority of my correspondence, presentations, interviews, information sessions, and conversations at college fairs trying to talk families “off the edge.” Students are dealing with so much pressure. Enough! No name is worth that. “Don’t jump,” I want to scream! Not for Whitman. Not for Harvard. Not for anyone! Read Steve’s article from the New York Times. Like many before him, and I’d wager many more to come, he’s really a calming voice of reason amidst the insanity that wants to cleave like the parasite it is to higher education.

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