It’s 2021, and I’m still 18

Last Updated on July 12, 2021 by Real College Matters

by Leigh Moore

Please forgive me for the long delay since my last post.  It’s been a season of introspection for sure, one which culminated in the decision to phase out my advising practice in order to focus on writing projects.  In an effort to describe the rationale for doing so, I created a document which has now grown to 10,700 words.  The good thing is, I guess I’ve written my book. The bad thing is, it was supposed to be this blog post. 

My current state of affairs can be wrapped up in something Ryan Perry, our essay coach, started telling me two years ago–he says I care too much, and God knows I do. My heart is on my sleeve about everything and everybody.   Caring too much in this case is less an observation of virtue than a comment on my empathic resonance with high school juniors and seniors. 

There’s a saying in education that you teach where you are stuck.  In other words, the theory is that we subconsciously choose the age group of those we ultimately teach as a function of developmental work left undone in our own lives.  And here I am, completing my 37th attempt at being 18.   I can still feel the feels, as they say, when it comes to acceptance, rejection, dreams, and the need to love oneself unconditionally.

Meanwhile, the adult in me has spent the past decade studying college admissions.  I understand how and why decisions are made, how brands are built, and how half-truths and unwritten rules perpetuate a culture of fear and scarcity.  Fear begets applications, applications beget rejections, rejections beget the illusion of more scarcity.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  

The pandemic presented a golden opportunity for disrupting the cycle; nothing begs some hard questions like the prospect of paying $80,000 a year to an institution you have never seen to be taught by professors you may never meet, all in the context of an ongoing economic shakeup. Instead, we saw a doubling-down on name brands. Because of my niche within the admissions space—data analyst/crusader against hype—I was heartbroken.  Is that weird?  Sure.  But is it true?  Absolutely.  We fed the beast of fear rather than starving it….and during a tough year which was already plagued with Covid and cancer, it was college admissions which wrought the most internal combustion in me.

My dismay had nothing to do with my students or their outcomes. They kept their cool while demonstrating remarkable grit and sound judgement. The national landscape, on the other hand, felt more religious than educational. In the place of commandments, there were rankings, and instead of a Deity, there were rankings. How can an institution be more than an unknown, little-g god when we are impressed only by its ability to reject applicants? (I cannot, of course, substantiate my impressions, at least not without making you read the other 10,000 or so words remaining on my Word doc.)

My existing students deserve all my energy and enthusiasm; after that, I will get off the front lines. It’s a personal choice, though, not some kind of judgment against colleges or admissions professionals. Hopefully, I will land on a writing project which serves more people than I can reach through individual advising.

Parents, if you could see admissions as I see it, you would engage the process sooner rather than later and skip the fear altogether. Moms and dads are increasingly invited away from college discussions in the name of student autonomy.  I understand the impulse, but nobody else knows your student or your budget as well as you do.  Moreover—and this is important–no one else’s job description includes the protection of your priorities and values. 

Don’t do your student’s work; just be their parents.  They need you, whether they acknowledge it or not. 

Road warriors extraordinaire–Jane Moore (VES ’23), Mac Moore (TCU ’25), Bob Moore (USNA ’23). Oberlin College, Thanksgiving Day 2014

I’m going to keep the blog up and running and will provide datasets and information on a regular basis. Please subscribe at the bottom of the linked page if you have not already done so. If you have questions about colleges or data you’d like me to track down or visualize, email me at leigh@realcollegematters.com.

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