Imagine you're cooking for an important dinner party where there's a lot riding on the meal. You plan ahead, you take the time to choose the dishes you want to prepare and start to make a shopping list. As you look at main ingredient for the first recipe, you see the following:
2 lbs. turkey thighs (required)
3 lbs. turkey thighs (recommended)
4 lbs. turkey thighs (preferred)
What is the correct amount you need to purchase to prepare a successful dish?
No, this isn't a riddle, or a joke, the answer is, you probably would have no idea.
Someone with cooking experience might look at the other ingredients and choose accordingly, with less panic. Someone like myself, who isn’t a strong cook, would start to panic a bit before reaching out for help. But even with input, with instructions listed that way, how would someone know the right or best answer?
Thank goodness situations aren't like that in real life, right? Where you're starting a new process and instead of instructions that are helpful and informative you receive directives that are unhelpful and confusing. Like, say, in planning for and applying to college? (insert sarcastic voice and eye-roll here)
Because the reality is, the admissions process is one of the least transparent activities there is and I don’t understand why it has to be that way. Preparing for one's future is already a potentially stressful and uncertain time, why make one of the gateways - college preparation and admissions - so complicated, uncertain and nebulous.
There are countless examples of this throughout the process, but in the interest of time and not making this blog one of the most depressing ever, I'm just going to point out a few. Keep in mind, my goal in doing this, as with all things I do, is to provide you with more knowledge and information because the more you know, the more prepared you can be and the more you can use this information to your advantage to create a specific plan that works for you.
Required, recommended, preferred - I didn't make those terms up. That's real language describing the minimum high school requirements for University of Santa Clara.
But wait there's more. When it comes to things like SAT Subject Tests, there are currently four categories: required, recommended, considered and alternative. Plus, there's "test-optional". There are colleges that don’t require you to submit ACT or SAT test scores.......except that decisions on merit scholarships are usually made on test scores rather than GPA, so, yes, actually you have a better chance of getting those if you submit your test scores. So much for optional, right?
And don't even get me started on the "optional 2nd essay", the "one letter of recommendation required, more can be submitted", and the multiple application deadlines.
Plus, requirements are constantly being evaluated and updated. In fact, last year a few colleges actually changed requirements literally in the middle of the application process. I had a student preparing to write a supplemental question response only to open the application a week later and find that it had been deleted from their list of admissions requirements.
I honestly don't believe that the colleges are doing this on purpose. As confusing and unclear as these guidelines are, it is the college's way of saying that “we want to provide a truly holistic process and we understand every single student is unique with their own sets of strengths, skills, interests and values so we're going to let you know we prefer 4 years of French but we’re not going to say with certainty that you must”. Which is lovely and well-meaning, but still not helpful.
Then there’s the colleges that just ask for grades and test scores. As awesome and straightforward as that process is, there are no doubt students who wish they could share more information about themselves or point out how they did take 4 years of science when others only took 2 or 3.
The ideal would be a holistic process AND more clarity and transparency, but until that happens, here are a few things you can do:
a. Don't try to second guess or read between the lines, take the info at face value.
The definition of "recommend" is: "to suggest that a certain action should be done". To me, that means, do it!
b. Consider the context of the information.
I'm all about context. Information is meaningless without context. "Should I take the SAT Subject tests if they are considered?" can best be answered by knowing the context: Are you applying to a competitive college? Are your scores strong? For example, Stanford SAT Subject Tests as "considered", but we know that it is a very competitive college, so if your test scores are strong and they will enhance your profile - YES! Smith College is entirely test optional so SAT Subject Tests may not be as important. But that brings me to the next point....
c. When in doubt, ASK!
The more that is uncertain, the more opportunity for students to make connections with the university. Meet with an admissions rep, get their business card, email them with follow up questions. The more specific and personal your question, the more it shows you're doing your homework and that you're genuinely interested in getting the info to help you do your best!
Plus, asking questions like "Why does your university prefer four years of language" can provide insight into their values and interests which helps you choose if this is the best place for you.
Just like asking “how many pounds of turkey thighs are needed to properly feed five adults” is a great start to preparing a successful entrée.