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Adam Kendis of Beacon is a college admissions counselor. He will lead a free Zoom discussion on the process at 6 p.m. on Thursday (Feb. 24). Register for the event, which is sponsored by the Howland Public Library, at bit.ly/HPL-college.
What will you talk about?
We’ll have a panel of admissions officers from Bard, Dutchess Community College and SUNY New Paltz so students can hear directly how they read applications and what they’re looking for. It’s designed to help students breathe a little easier by emphasizing that this is a very human process. Admissions officers like working with students and are looking for their best qualities. They want to admit students. It’s designed for 11th graders, but anyone is welcome.
With many colleges dropping SAT and ACT scores as requirements, what is important for a student to focus on?
This is the No. 1 question I get. Many studies have shown that the SAT and other tests are not good predictors of student success, in college or after. Even before the pandemic, there were at least 1,000 colleges that had gone test-optional. Now only about 20 still require it.
I tell students: “If testing comes easily, go for it. If not, don’t sweat it.” I recommend students do a practice test, then decide. Colleges care much more about grades and how you’ve challenged yourself. If your school had options to do honors or AP [Advanced Placement] classes, did you take them? Ninth graders need to understand that colleges look at grades for all four years. But they understand there may be rough patches. There are places to explain things.
For students who are the first in their families to go to college, I emphasize that “you can 100 percent do this and you will be wonderful. College is for you.” It can feel like that’s not the case because the process is confusing. Finding a mentor is key: It’s not easy to navigate on your own.
How important is it to attend a well-known school?
With technology and social media, there’s a lot more pressure on kids these days to focus on “name” colleges, but they are not determinant of life and success. The vast majority of people did not go to those schools and they do great. A book by Frank Bruni, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to College Admissions Mania, is illuminating. The percentage of people who go to college has increased, which affects admissions. There are also wonderful pathways in the trades, with good earning power. But there is still this expectation that college is a necessity.
Is everyone likely to be writing essays about the pandemic? Should a student choose another topic?
There’s a question on the Common App [common application] that invites students to share how the pandemic has influenced them, so you can write about the pandemic but not have it be your main essay. Colleges are looking for kids who are going to be members of the community, so give them a window into something in your life. Remember that the transcript equals about 75 percent of the decision, and the remaining 25 percent will vary by school and include the essay, teacher recommendations and resume.
What drew you to this field?
I love transitions in life. They’re fascinating. My biggest times of growth have been when I’ve gone from one phase to another. Having the good fortune of going to college and graduate school opened doors for me and also opened my mind. This doesn’t have to happen through college, though; there are lots of different ways to challenge yourself and grow. It’s more about: “What do you want to become and how do you get there?”