Re-stacking the Deck
Lately, I have become the go-to college person on campus, more so than usual. I was already thinking about college way more than usual with NACAC and Decision Day in the last week. So my week looked like this:
“Ms. Hoy! I wanted to tell you that Berkeley called. I am off the waiting list! So even though I told Michigan I would go there, I am going to Berkeley instead!”
I thought, of course Berkeley called; this student is fantastic and fits nicely into the percentage group that Berkeley is seeking…and Berkeley’s yield is low and getting lower each year. (The yield is the percentage of students who enroll after they are admitted.)
I knew a large number of the students who decided on Berkeley because we passed each other in the hallway saying, “Go Bears!” each day. I love it—college-going culture. Some of them were my clients and some were former students. Regardless: Go Bears!
“I love Duke. I really want to go there. It is…just perfect. And the University of Chicago too.”
“When you described your ideal school, it sounded to me like you were describing Duke,” I responded. “And if I were to do it all over again, I think I would have ended up at the University of Chicago myself or at least tried (I do really love NYU too and still). I’m glad you liked those recommendations.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Whenever you talk about college…I want to go. I just don’t have their grades,” he said nodding towards a group of AP students deciding between applying to Stanford and Yale. Those students didn’t know what a grade less than an A- on a report card looked like. And between tutoring and volunteering at soup kitchens, being the leads in the school play or setting records on the track or learning how to code in their spare time, yes, those acceptance letters from the most selective schools would be easier to come by.
“Most people don’t,” I responded to his statement about their grades. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t go somewhere and that doesn’t mean you won’t be successful.”
“I’ve been turning things around,” he said as he handed me his transcript.
People often times ask me who my clientele is. I work with high-achieving students regardless of their privilege. I have learned one major take-away from working in schools where the majority of the population has means: When those families are coming to me for assistance, they HAVE to acknowledge their privilege. I think about that hashtag that was trending for a bit—#crimingwhilewhite. In this case, it’s #applyingwhilewhite. And the first lesson to learn is that, while it may seem obvious, there isn’t a limit to the number of students a university can accept. In theory, they could hire more professors and not even have an application process. While they work on that piece, I like to think that I am challenging that system a bit by presenting lots of qualified candidates who understand their privilege in the possibility of entering academia. That understanding of privilege will do amazing things in urban communities, poor communities, and wealthy communities.
There is just something to saying—regardless of what side one is on— that a first-generation Afro-Latina helped me get here.
I also really appreciate the strong desire and connection students have with a particular campus, but not in the same way as other counselors implicitly or explicitly promise admissions to particular schools. I see students who know a campus, inside and out, and dream of that campus. That school literally consumes them. I was that way with Berkeley and dropped the phone when I received a call from the chair of the department to say that I was admitted to the doctoral program. Growing up in the Bay Area, everyone sort of knows the campus. I took BART a ton of times to Berkeley to hang out on Telegraph, especially at the record stores. I was identified in middle school to participate in a program for college-bound students, meaning I spent Saturdays on campus in advanced math and English courses. And there were all the references to Berkeley in the music from local artists that I understood right away. I was Berkeley all day, regardless of the outcome of my time there. So I get it when students are also that preoccupied with a campus.
In short, privilege, including knowing, isn’t a bad thing.
With that said, what happens when students and families have less privilege, knowing or otherwise?
My main intention with the workshop is create that possibility: to restack the deck, so to speak. And to reiterate, one is not able to restack a deck with only half the deck. Students and families with privilege have to know how their privilege is being used in this process. Students and families without it need to recognize where they actually do have privilege and how to leverage it to make real change in their communities.
So my college counseling model is a bit different. From the manual and upcoming workshop, I use the graphic above.
When I am talking about college, it is in order to find a fit in these three areas, because these should be our priorities today. And for the majority of students, they simply are not.
Consider the impact of for-profit universities closing and the lawsuits from their graduates who are asserting they are unable to use the degree they earned at such a high price. Consider the studies that are reporting that yields are so low at public universities because families are finding that the private university they applied to on a whim is actually cheaper than the public one. Consider the thousands of students in the state just waiting for classes at a community college or public university to become available, in year five, six, and above of their wait. And consider this time in a young person’s life, when developmental psychologists say they are learning the most about responsibility and self, being in a place where they fear being themselves. Something has to change.
I changed my business model a bit this year. I wanted to work with more students and families by being more accessible. Where other consultants may charge upwards of $30K per year for the same service, I am attempting to do the same for less than $100 per year with workshops. For people who prefer to work one-on-one, I tiered the pricing to reflect the school district where one lives, meaning a family from Piedmont would be higher on the tier compared to a family from the flats in Oakland. And I am happy to continue working in collaboration with psychotherapists, immigration attorneys, and the college and admissions counselors I have been working with previously.
The workshop? Attend. Send some students, families, and organizations that you know. And if you can’t, let me know how I can support you to attend.