What are the current key ethical issues in the college admissions process from your point of view? What advice or information do you offer parents on these topics?
“Lack of honesty” sums up the key ethical issues counselors cited. These issues include misuse of early decision; dishonesty about financial need; and plagiarism, intentional and unintentional. Counseling students individually seemed to be the most popular way of guiding students towards behaving in an ethical way. In addition, some counselors faulted colleges for creating a frenzied atmosphere surrounding admissions and financial aid, noting that this atmosphere, as well as other societal issues, made it challenging at times for students and their families to approach the college admissions process openly and honestly.
“Overall, I believe that the vast majority wants to do things properly and is mostly concerned with understanding how the college admissions process works to make sure that no reasonable step or advantage is missed. If media would cease to rate and rank colleges and universities with good-sounding, but fundamentally mistaken and misleading criteria, the public would stop thinking that higher-rated institutions were necessarily better and would probably be less driven to unethical steps to secure admission to just a few, highly selective institutions.”—Robert Patrick, Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville, TN
“I strongly urge full disclosure of any relevant glitches—although a few years ago, a naïve young man told the mega-selective colleges he’d applied to (appropriately) that he’d been arrested—for running a stop sign. He didn’t stipulate the cause of this arrest, and didn’t get in, although that may not have been the only factor keeping him out.”—Sue Bigg, Educational Consultant, Chicago, IL
“The biggest issues we have involve disclosure of student illness, particularly mental illness, and of student misconduct and resulting disciplinary actions. In the first case, if the illness has affected the student’s academic record, I do advise her to discuss her illness so that she can reassure college admissions departments that she is managing the situation. In the second case, what we do depends upon the severity and timing of the misconduct. A lapse in freshman year that has not been repeated seems unnecessary to report. A major misconduct later on which results in suspension is necessary to report; we urge the student to report it herself.”—Joanna Schultz, The Ellis School, Pittsburgh, PA
“High schools and students must trust the admissions process, arbitrary as it sometimes appears. Attempts at manipulating data and packaging students do not serve the best interests of the students and the school community. Grade inflation, creative and deceptive methods for identifying rank and valedictorian status, and concealing disciplinary issues are all obstacles to clear and sincere communication between schools and colleges.”—Carl Ahlgren, University Liggett School, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI
“If both sides—the college and the families—were honest in their communications with one another, many problems could be avoided. For example, colleges still tell students that “SATs are not that important to us,” when no one with under a 1300 has ever gotten into that college from my school. Students and their families still tell a college, “You are my first choice school, but without more money I won’t be able to attend,” when in reality the student has no first choice and is playing the schools against one another. These are two examples of a much deeper problem: People do not feel morally obligated these days to stand by their word.” —Barbara Ward Meyer, Mount St. Dominic Academy, Caldwell, NJ
“I worked in admissions for eleven years, and I read thousands and thousands of essays. One in particular was a poem. I am not a fan of poetry but this one was quite good. The more I read it, the more I thought it should be put to music. I thought about it some more and realized it had been put to music. I reached into my CD collection and pulled out U2’s The Joshua Tree, and sure enough, word for word, was the lyrics from “In God’s Country.” Yep, the song lyrics and poem were identical.”—Dave Hamilton, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Wheaton, MD “There are many outside companies who tell students that they will find them thousands of dollars in scholarships and financial aid. They charge the students big bucks (in some cases I’ve seen upwards of $3,000). My feeling is that, although the companies may be legit, they are only providing a service that students and parents can manage on their own.”—Robert F. Kennedy, Smoky Hill High School, Aurora, CO