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Tuning in to Students’ Dreams

May 9th, 2016

Bill Fitzsimmons, dean of admission at Harvard, delivered a lively talk to a group of educational consultants at the IECA conference in Boston last week.  Fitzsimmons’s focus on providing access to the world’s most talented students, regardless of economic circumstance, is something I’ve long known and appreciated.  His insight about students’ and parents’ dreams is also legendary, and his tale of a parent of a student who applied to Harvard several years ago is worth sharing.

The student was not admitted, and the parent could not accept the decision.  Many letters and phone calls ensued – always from the parent to the admission office, never from the student.  For quite some time, this parent’s efforts were ceaseless.  Then, a pause.  Three and a half years later, the parent called again … to say that the student was nearing graduation at her alternate college choice.  Upon reflection, the parent had come to realize that this college was indeed the better match for her daughter.  Harvard had been the parent’s dream, it turns out, and not the child’s.  So often, the pressure that children feel has to do with our own aspirations, doesn’t it?

Last week’s conference also included workshops on boarding school admission, new financial aid application procedures for colleges, international student recruitment issues, applications and auditions to theater programs, and the new Coalition application.  Ahead of the conference, school and college visits in the area set the stage wonderfully as I saw students learning, growing, happy at schools that are right for them.  I especially enjoyed visiting with a student who has found a great fit at my own alma mater, Tufts.

Each experience at this conference reminded me to listen carefully to my advisees, to help and encourage them as they clarify and pursue their personal goals.  Much is changing in college and boarding school admission.  And much is changing in today’s world that our students experience.  Students remain students, however, and their successes, struggles and dreams will always be at the center of our work at Shrop Ed.


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