I have been fielding phone calls from stressed parents over the past few weeks about the results from the spring ACT and SAT. When families saw that their students did not receive the scores that would put them in the 50% quartile for THE school of their dreams, panic ensued.
Each conversation had me saying the same thing: define what it is that your child loves so much about THE school and let’s add more schools with those qualities to their list. We can even find some test optional schools so that the scores are not so critical. When I said this, I could physically feel the parents exhaling on the phone as their shoulders dropped from their ears.
I am a Spanish teacher by day and in Spanish we study the definite articles, el, la, los, las. These four words all express “the”. You are referencing something that is defined or definite as in “I am going to buy THE car.” or “She has found THE perfect dress”. These articles modify nouns that are concrete. And in college planning, you should stay away from them. Do not find THE school that you absolutely, positively must attend and if you don’t your life is over. Repeat, do not seek out THE school that you want to attend. Instead, you need to embrace the indefinite articles. In Spanish, these are un, una, unos, unas. They mean “a” or in the plural, “some” or “a few”. If you modify your nouns with indefinite articles as you go through the college admissions process, you are going to have a softer, more gentle approach to your college list. Your lineup of schools should have a range of options. When people ask you what is THE college that you want to attend, you can break out the indefinite articles and talk about SOME of the colleges you want to attend, or A college that you like.
I spoke with one of the children from a family that called me after they received recent test scores. We talked about THE school that this student wanted to attend. THE school is far away from their home, highly selective, difficult to get to, and will cost the family about $300,000. When I threw out a few test optional choices and some schools that might charge half the cost of THE college they must attend, that were all within 2-3 hours of their home, and offered a high-probability of admission, they perked up and said, “It might be a nice option to be able to go home if I want”. And all of a sudden, there was a shift. This young person was able to see a different possibility that offered options that THE college did not. There was a transformation in their energy when they saw a choice that offered so many positive features. THE college that they desperately needed to attend became A college that they are considering.
With each phone call, I was able to start a shift from definite articles to indefinite articles. We went from “THE” to “SOME” and I could feel the relief on the other end of the phone. Do yourself a favor and do not attach success in the college admissions process to an acceptance letter from one specific school.
I am attaching a video below from John Katzmann that I have used in other blogs. It addresses the issue of creating a list that you love. Enjoy!