Head of School
A Message from Jim Jump, Director of College Counseling and Upper School Academic Dean
While all of us were trying to get some rest and relaxation on Spring Break last week, news broke that 50 people had been indicted in federal court as part of a criminal conspiracy aimed at obtaining admission to elite universities including Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest, and the University of Southern California. The scheme is too complex to explain in detail, but wealthy parents worked with an unscrupulous independent college consultant to cheat on standardized tests and to bribe college coaches for their children to be admitted as recruited walk-ons in a variety of sports, most of which the children had never played.
Oscar Wilde reportedly said that “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” Tragedy is the wrong word—last week’s Ethiopian plane crash and shootings in New Zealand are true tragedies. In any case those of us who wish the college admissions process received more attention from the media and the public got our wish.
A common refrain in the numerous articles and discussions of the scandal discussions last week was the notion that this case is just an extension of other attempts by the wealthy and privileged to secure advantage for their children in the college admissions process. It isn’t. What we have here is a sophisticated, even cunning, criminal enterprise far beyond anything we’ve seen before.
This sordid episode provides an opportunity to think about the bigger issues and principles that should guide the college search and admissions processes:
1) The college process is first and foremost a journey of self-discovery for a student, a chance to think about who he is, what his talents and strengths are, what he cares about, and what he wants from his life after St. Christopher’s. That journey is more important than the college destination.
2) The college process is harder on parents than students. It tests your basic beliefs both about life (is it fair or is it a game?) and about parenting (is your job to help your child become independent or to prevent disappointment?). It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that where your child goes to college is a measure of your success as a parent, and all of us are prone to worry that there is something we should be doing.
3) Getting into college should be a source of pride and accomplishment for a student. What is most disturbing is that many of the parents in this case took illegal actions behind their children’s backs, demonstrating a lack of trust in their children being able to get in to college on their own.
4) A college education is an experience rather than a brand or a status symbol. Last week’s scandal was based in part on the false belief that going to an elite college is the key to success and happiness. St. Christopher’s goal is to help every student find the right college fit.
5) A number of years ago long-time Harvard Dean of Admissions Bill Fitzsimmons said during a visit to Richmond that the admissions process is rational, but may not seem fair. Colleges and universities are complex institutions with complex strategic goals, and they use the admissions process to help them achieve those goals. The better an applicant helps them achieve those goals, the better his or her chances of admission. Nevertheless, year in and year out 75-80% of students nationally are admitted to their first choice college.
6) You don’t need to hire an outside college consultant (you may certainly choose to, but you don’t need to). St. Christopher’s has a dedicated, experienced college counseling staff, and we are committed to helping every boy and his family navigate what can be a confusing process. We believe that the decision is an important developmental milestone and that the student should take ownership to the degree he is capable, with parents and college counselors working together in a support role.
As I read the accounts of last week’s scandal, I was glad—and proud—to work at St. Christopher’s. I have been told multiple times by folks at colleges and other independent schools that our students are more knowledgeable about the college process, and our parents more calm and rational, than at other schools. St. Christopher’s is a school that reveres tradition, and that’s a tradition I hope we will maintain.
Director of College Counseling and Upper School Academic Dean