Adjusting Our Lens for the College Search


As a mom of three teens, I have had a front-row seat to the college admission scene and let me tell you – it is not the same rodeo my eldest and I experienced just two years ago. So much sadness, frustration, disappointment, shock, and confusion, as rock star students are rejected to one, then two, and perhaps even to all the colleges to which they applied. I have heard story after story of how a student with a stellar GPA, impressive test scores, and a laundry list of extracurricular activities was rejected or waitlisted from schools that they should have been accepted to. (Yes, I’m making air quotes right now.)


Yet, also making headlines is the overall reduction in enrollment numbers, down by more than one million since 2019, resulting in some lesser-known colleges begging for students, unable to fill their seats for fall.

What is Going On?

I am not an expert who can answer this question. We can blame some combination of gap years or indefinite delaying of college, test-optional applications, the skyrocketing cost of college, and various other impacts of the pandemic. Yes, to all of that and more as the culprit for the mess that is college admissions. But as a parent, I have other questions.

What Do We Do Now?

First, we take a big breath and a hard look at the college list our kid has been building. How realistic is it in this new post-pandemic environment? How much of my kid’s heart are we willing to bet on a school that only admits 5% of the best and brightest? (Spoiler alert: none.)

We remind our hard-working students, no matter their GPA or test scores, that there is a place for them. Maybe we remind ourselves, too. Most of all, we stop talking about colleges like fancy shoes or vacation homes – as if the more prestigious, luxurious, and well-known choices are the best choices. Or worse – the only worthwhile choices. That just is not true.

How Can We Do Better?

The greatest lesson we all – parents and students – can learn from this awful year is that we have been lied to about achievement. Over-committing to rigorous classes, playing all the sports, joining all the clubs, and absolutely destroying themselves to be perfect in every way is no guarantee of getting into their dream school. Furthermore, that dream school cannot promise success or happiness in life, while in college or after graduation. College, like life, is what you make of it.

All we have control over are our own choices in how we approach the college selection process. I cannot control the rankings, application rates, acceptance rates, or what colleges or other families are doing. I can only control what happens in our home. We will be reminding our children that one or two extracurricular activities are enough. That sleep is sometimes a better choice than another hour of studying. That it is ok if they choose not to take the SAT or ACT again (or ever). That “the best” for them is not the same as anyone else’s best. That they have more than enough options. Most importantly, that they are more than enough for the right college, exactly as they are.


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