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by Jeffrey Salingo

This book, from New York Times journalist Jeffry Selingo, is a must-read for students and families preparing for the college journey. As a college consultant with a marketing background, I appreciate Selingo’s transparency into how our students are being overtly marketed to: the realization that prompted my career change many years ago. As a Journalism major, I appreciate the data behind Selingo’s assertions. As a college consultant, I appreciate his transparency.

Jeffey Selingo follows dozens of college seniors as they navigate the college application process, while embedding himself within the admissions offices of three selective colleges. The COVID pandemic hit before he published his book, so the book touches upon the modifications to the admissions process that COVID has pushed. Selingo's take-away reinforces what any ethical, experienced college consultant advises:

  1. Worry about what you do in high school (class selection, grades, extra-curriculars) over standardized test scores.

  2. What are your unique needs as a student (learning environment, passions, interests)? What can your family afford to pay for your college education? Let that drive what colleges you apply to over U.S. News rankings. This is where an experienced consultant can really help. There are approximately 2,000, 4-year colleges in the US. Many of these colleges most students have never heard of. Many of these colleges would be a great match. A balanced college list is one of the most important factors to creating options. Be strategic!

  3. Don’t procrastinate on your applications. The college application timeline is fall of a student’s senior year. Many students don’t even begin the process until then, and it’s just too late, and just too stressful to maximize opportunities. I’m paraphrasing here, but Selingo reiterates and illustrates how important success aligns with detailed and authentic applications: from nuances in the Common App, to recommendation letters, to demonstrated interest. This is one of the two biggest mistakes that I see students make.

  4. Focus on the fit vs. the name. Do your research on the programs and support systems at the college you choose. If you don’t know what you want to major in then join the club (average college student changes their major 3 times.) Choose a college that will give you exposure to lots of subjects. Does the college you want to attend support you changing your major? Provide guidance to internship opportunities? I’ll stop here but the list goes on.

Lastly, a point that is reinforced throughout “Who Gets in and Why” is that admissions to selective colleges is unpredictable. It is predicated, most often, by institutional priorities that have little to do with the qualified student that submits a well thought-out application. A good college consultant will be upfront about that. They will analyze the college's admissions data, set realistic expectations for the student, and arm the student with the confidence of knowing who they are and what they have to offer- then help them put together a balanced list of colleges to apply to. Basically, help the student to have no regrets and launch into their next exciting next chapter.

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