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College is a snap, thanks to the 'godcounselor'

February 17, 2003|by Lyn Widmyer

With two children in high school, I read all the newspaper articles and advice columns on college admissions with great interest. The articles are never reassuring. They always focus on "big name" schools and the fact that thousands and thousands of kids apply to these highly selective institutions, but only a handful get in. Kids with perfect Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) scores who have invented new techniques to help the lame walk and who have spent summers replanting the Amazon rain forest are rejected.

This does not bode well for my children. They are good students, but when I suggest to my daughter that she might want to study harder or discover a cure for cancer, she says her main goal is to sleep more. My son's major extracurricular activity has been bagging groceries at the local grocery store. He dreams of advancing to the position of cashier next summer.

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But I am not worried. Regardless of their academic and extracurricular accomplishments, my children will get into good colleges. I am sure of this outcome because of a brilliant decision my husband and I made when our kids were infants.

We chose a high school guidance counselor to be their godmother.

While other parents fret and panic as college approaches, I am calm. Godmother Sue Blair, a high school guidance counselor at Middletown High School since 1988 and honored as Maryland's counselor of the year in 1999, is on the case.

When the kids were little, Sue performed the usual godmother tasks. She attended church programs and provided colorfully illustrated versions of the Bible. Now that the kids are in high school, her focus has shifted. Godmother Sue makes sure the kids know of upcoming SAT test dates. She reviews their high school course schedule for academic rigor. For my son, who is interested in history and likes to swim, Sue has provided a list of colleges cross-referenced by national ranking in history offerings, type of swimming programs, and geographic locale. When the first round of preliminary SAT scores arrived, Sue pored over the results, identifying strengths and weaknesses and recommending to the kids how to do better next time.

My role in this process is simple.

"More coffee, Sue?" I offer.

Godmother Sue has been a high school guidance counselor for two decades and has shepherded thousands of students through the college admission process. A lot has changed in 20 years, she reflects. More kids want to go to college and many are interested in attending high profile, popular schools. Successful sports programs have increased student awareness of certain colleges, including the University of Maryland. When I attended the University of Maryland in the 1960s, any in-state high school graduate with a C average who knew Maryland's school mascot was a terrapin was admitted (knowing how to spell terrapin was optional). Now superstar high school seniors are banished to the wait list, as Maryland is becoming known as a "public" Ivy League school.

Thankfully, Sue is familiar with many of the 1,600 colleges that do not make "most competitive" or "highly selective" lists in college guidebooks. She describes Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), Washington College in Chestertown, and Guilford College in North Carolina as wonderful schools that have escaped the media spotlight. Sue assures me that colleges like these are more interested in recruiting qualified students than rejecting them. Demographic changes support this belief. According to Barron's Profiles of American Colleges, there will be one million fewer students applying to college in the next decade than in 1977 because the teen-aged population is declining. Since the number of colleges is staying constant, Barron's concludes it is a "buyer's market" when it comes to college admission.

Of course the most selective colleges still reject 90 percent of applicants. One educator observes that Harvard used to accept 35 percent of applicants, then 10 years ago accepted only 25 percent and last year enrolled 11 percent. He concludes in another decade Harvard will have achieved its goal: No one will be admitted.

Such statistics do not bother me. Godmother Sue will make sure my kids get into the best college for them, whether it is "most competitive," "very competitive" or "less competitive."

I am content to know that at least one member of our family can boast of attending a selective college. My University of Maryland diploma is proof.

Now if I can only remember where I put it.

Lyn Widmyer is a resident of Charles Town, W.Va.

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