On Being “College Ready”

My son has taken his parents for quite a “ride” over the last few months as he waited and waited to make a decision about which of the three colleges where he was accepted he would attend. As May 1 seemed to be looming, his father and I kept at him about that deadline and the need to make ANY decision!

He finally told us his decision, which I suspect has been his decision for a very long, but a little part of him just enjoyed watching his parents squirm. Last week, upon my insistence, he and his father went directly the admissions office of his chosen college to hand in the deposit and sign the financial aid paperwork.

When he arrived, he was met with the typical “You’ve made a great choice!” that any admissions counselor will give a kid who has decided to attend their college. But, here’s where it gets interesting………

He was remembered by the admissions counselor for his ESSAY! Yes, the essay that he wrote as part of his application, which was on the “topic of his choice” – not for his SAT or ACT scores, or even his high school transcript, and most definitely NOT for his ELA and MATH test scores in grades 3-8!!

Interestingly, this is the same child who had to be cajoled into attending a “Scholarship Invitational” at this college. He finally went, but only AFTER someone called him and told him it consisted of a 20 minute oral interview. (and being lured in by some free tickets to a sporting event) From what I can gather, the interview was conducted by 4 people, each asking him “some question” (his words, not mine). At the end, he was told that he could ask THEM a question. His question was “So, tell me, how has being part of this college community changed YOU?”  One of the panel replied “What a great question! I don’t think anyone has asked me that before.”

A few weeks later, an envelope arrived. Inside was a letter stating “You have been awarded an additional scholarship of $3000/year based on your interview.” Let me repeat : BASED ON YOUR INTERVIEW!

I tell this story not because I want a forum to sing the praises of my own child (obviously since my name isn’t on this) but because I want to point out that the line we are being fed as parents and as teachers that somehow NYS TESTING ‘proves’ college readiness is  LIE! NO ONE has ever asked to see his test scores from those tests. NO ONE cares if he was a 2, a 3 or a 4 when he was 10 years old. Yes, he submitted SAT and ACT scores and his HS transcript (which at the time was only HALF of his last year in high school), and yes those things factored into his admission, but remember – he was REMEMBERED for his writing and his speaking – both of which were his CHOICE!

As a parent, I have concerns about college readiness, but honestly none of them have to do with TESTS. I wonder about students’ ability to manage time and tasks when school is structured most often in a way where those are managed for them. I wonder about students’ ability to balance fun and work when most of the time constraints that schools put on them are taken away. I wonder about students’ ability to collaborate when school has become a test prep factory and everything is about competing NOT cooperating. I wonder about students’ ability to ‘think on their feet’ and make decisions after having spent 13 years in school where they were told what to learn and when to learn it.

8 thoughts on “On Being “College Ready”

  1. Michael Lambert

    Right. In high school, the majority of the writing that goes on from ninth to eleventh grades is focused on passing the Regents exam: constructed responses (two paragraphs) and the critical lens essay. That’s pretty much it. That’s what the state wants. Then they enter senior year and have to write the most important essay of their lives, the college app essay, and the only ones who have a chance are your naturally talented writers.

    I know what I’m talking about. I teach English 12, College Preparation in a high poverty school district, and out of 70 students I have maybe half a dozen who can do a competent job on this essay. We spend the first marking period doing a cram course on personal writing, writing one practice essay after another. (During this time I have no personal life. lol!) I start by telling them that now that they’ve passed the Regents, they can forget about it because colleges and universities couldn’t care less about their scores. Then I apologize for the system that didn’t prepare them, and for the blood, sweat and tears I am about to put them through.

  2. dbpigtail

    Congratulations to your son! You should be singing his praises! This is great news and so true. Too many people are believing the line they’re being fed about these tests being so important for college and career readiness. Your son is obviously an independent thinker, which is what many kids are NOT becoming with all the test prep and time spent testing.

  3. antiqueteacher60 Post author

    Thanks dbpigtail……….my son has had the wonderful opportunity to grow up pretty much WITHOUT the Common Core. He has had wonderful teachers who encouraged him to find his “voice”. This one advantage of a small rural school – for now, anyway. We’ll see what the future holds as state and federal officials try to make all our kids exactly the same……..

  4. Grumpycat

    Congratulations to you and your son! Let me add what happens at the next level. In medical school interviews (where scores DO count to get an interview) one M.D. said to my daughter, “You can write.” To which she replied, “I’m an English minor.” He said, “Every pre-med is an English minor…but YOU can WRITE.” She was admitted and sent a copy of his book. Words matter. Ideas matter. More than test scores.

  5. SCS=Shaw Crane-Sundell

    So far, the colleges haven’t caved to the same practices as the states and their stilted format for preparing students for life and college. They still possess some autonomy. (Some professors still have valuable tenure too, but that is a different topic,) College admission officers have some latitude as long as they can back up their claims with sound application documentation based on potential student initiative. As a former English teacher, I watched the erosion of significant opportunities for all but a few of my under served students to have a chance to learn to write. They were all switched over to the “Four Paragraph Essay” that was mandated by their canned literacy programs. Creative writing was discouraged–almost considered subversive at the last urban school where I taught. And yet applying to college is still all about initiative. Anyone sensing a trend here?
    BTW, congratulations to your son! I can see that he is thoughtful and has learned to be reflective about his opportunities. I wish him great success.


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