College Admissions and College Confidential

The College Confidential site went live August 1, 2001. Over the past decade and a half, CC has become the go-to place for one of the world's greatest archives of college admissions-related information. It's all free. One of the most interesting aspects of CC is the discussion forum, where countless high schoolers, parents, grandparents, and others gather to ask, answer, debate, and parse every imaginable aspect of getting into college, as well as wade into an infinite supply of off-topic discussions in the various “Cafe" forums.

If you're reading this, you're probably already acquainted with CC. What you may not know, however, is the inside perspective about how we, as CC operatives (I am a co-founder) see the site function in relation to college applicants and their parents, as well as underclass high schoolers and their parents.

So, I thought I would share with you some of the comments from a well known and highly knowledgable CC fixture, Sally Rubenstone. If you Google her name, appended by the word “college" (to bring her to the top of your links, separated from the other Sally Rs in the world, you'll see that she is an author, admissions expert, current parent of a college son, and all around keeper of the keys to college admissions success.

Sally's Ask the Dean feature on CC is a heavily visited resource where admissions-related Q&As abound. CC even offer a free collection of Sally's answers in a downloadable ebook from the CC site. To know Sally is to learn from her.

So, today, I want to post some of Sally's comments that she made during a press interview. I thought they were so apt and insightful about how CC is affected by the admissions season I want to offer them here, with perhaps an additional audience who may not see her comments in another medium. Here are the questions and Sally's answers:

1. Do you see a spike in traffic on CC's Admissions threads at this time of year? If so, is it possible to quantify it?

Yes, there is always a huge spike at this time of year, and the CC tech team works extra hard to keep the site from crashing from overuse each spring.

2. What are some common anxieties posted by students during this season of waiting?

Some students second-guess their college choices while waiting (“I reached too high") or their application strategies (“I never should have written that essay about my staph infection in third grade"). Many get flummoxed by news that arrives early. For instance, the Ivy League schools and assorted other “elite" colleges send out “Likely Letters" before the actual decisions are released. These offer great reassurance to the few applicants who get them but will turn up the heat in the pressure cooker for those who don't (albeit the majority). Sometimes, too, strong students receive waitlist or even denial decisions from “Safety" schools before their top-choice verdicts roll in. Talk about panic then!

This unwanted and unexpected news may be due to the fact that the student made unrealistic choices in the first place, perhaps not fully considering the role of low test scores or a lightweight curriculum. But sometimes these students will eventually be accepted by more selective schools but simply didn't demonstrate adequate interest in the Safeties which prompted an equal lack of interest on the part of admission officials.

Another cause of spring anxiety is when friends and classmates receive early verdicts. This prompts a range of nervous speculation along the lines of, “If Antoine Anderson didn't get into Michigan, I don't have a prayer" or “Sarah Schimmel was admitted ED II at Emory so I know they won't take another senior from our high school."

But one of the biggest springtime worries I encounter through my work at College Confidential and through writing CC's “Ask the Dean" column is the fear that good news will turn into bad when college folks get wind of declining senior grades or misbehavior that led to a suspension. This thread, “When do colleges rescind acceptances?", which I started nearly seven years ago is still one of the longest-enduring (and longest, period) on CC.

3. What are some common anxieties posted by parents?

Parents often worry (perhaps more than their progeny do) about dips in grades, whether significant or not and about disciplinary action and its impact on college acceptances already handed down or pending.

Some parents are constantly tuned into the local grapevine (or to the College Confidential forums) and will parse to death the statistics and achievements of “competitor" candidates already accepted (or rejected) by their child's target schools, trying to predict outcomes based on these early results.

Most of all, however, parents worry that their child will be devastated by denials. As a parent myself, I feel their pain, but if the parent was proactive in the early stages of the college process (which, for some families may mean kindergarten, then Junior should have been wisely discouraged from putting all his eggs into a “dream-college" basket and should have, instead, compiled a college list that included not only a “Reach" school or two but also several “Realistic" and “Safe" choices that he is certain to love. When my own son was going through the admissions maze two years ago, it didn't seem hard to get him excited about a couple sure-thing schools, and he even happily attends one of them now and not the Ivy that also admitted him.

4. Are there ever complaints from parents or students about insensitive or unkind comments or questions from other adults?

The CC moderators try to remove unkind posts on our forums, but in “real life" it's not so easy to put toothpaste back in the tube. Comments by grandparents, neighbors, classmates, etc. can occasionally be hurtful. Yet I see a wide range in the way that “insensitive" is defined. Some students (and, more likely, their parents) can have a hair trigger when it comes to the college admissions process and will bristle at even thoughtful, well-intended remarks. (“My nephew was also rejected by Bowdoin, but now he adores Bucknell.") But I believe that this current generation of parents (which includes me) needs to allow our children to “fail" and bounce back.

Granted, a denial from Harvard or Yale—where fewer than 10 in 100 highly qualified candidates get the thumbs up—shouldn't be called a “failure." But I do feel that teenagers, however disappointed they may be with their college acceptances, don't want to hear platitudes (“You're much stronger than that Shapiro boy who did get into Amherst" or “I always thought the Columbia crowd seemed snobby and you'll like SUNY Stony Brook better"). So I urge parents to let their children be sad and then move on. In most cases, the denial is tougher on the moms and dads than on the kids.

5. Re all the above questions, do you see any changes on the site now compared with the past — say, 5 to 10 years ago?

I've noticed a couple changes myself. One is that since CC's founding (2001), the parents and students on our forum are discussing—and applying to—a far broader swath of schools than in the early days, when the conversations were rife with Ivy-angsters. We also have more community college transfers and non-traditional students too.

There is also far greater concern (in my subjective opinion) about cost and debt and about the colleges that offer the best merit aid, especially to middle-class candidates who are too “rich" to qualify for major need-based money but too “poor" to meet the private-college price-tag with insouciance. One reason that a wider array of colleges is represented on CC is because a growing number of families are concerned with the bottom line and realize that, while places like Penn and Princeton can be attractive and an acceptance is coveted and flattering, their child can graduate from Tulane or Wake Forest with no loans to repay and cash left in the coffers for grad school.


That's a glimpse of how things look to us as we view those who come to CC for various reasons. Feel free to join them. We'd love to see you here.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.