Talking about Turkey and college admission

With the holidays approaching, many high school seniors will work frantically to complete college applications. They and others will try to dodge a bunch of questions from friends and family about where they’ve moved on and what they want to do with their lives (don’t be close!). While their parents attend Thanksgiving dinner, many students may write essays and fill out applications. So, what do holiday hosting and college admissions have in common? Both can be uniquely worrisome. Now they both also have a free helpline to mitigate the uncertainty.

For the past 40 years, the good people at Butterball Turkey have helped chefs navigate their culinary cravings during the holidays. No matter who you are, the experts stand by to give you advice on soaking, fermenting, and baking. When it comes to college admissions, the stakes are much higher and accessing the correct information is undoubtedly more complicated. “Should I send test scores?” “How do I report my score?” “Do I need to create a resume?” These are among the many questions students grapple with. Despite the wishes of some applicants, there is no recipe for admission success in a world filled with information overload. However, there is a free and live Zoom “Deadline Hotline” that seeks to level the playing field for students and their supporters everywhere.

Counseling after high school is in crisis and is unfortunately unfair. Although the American School Counselor Association recommends a student-counselor ratio of 250 to 1, the reality is grim. The national average is closer to 415 to 1, with the average counselor working in some states with over 700 students. These dedicated professionals are stress free and responsible for a long list of services – from academic scheduling and support to mental health counseling and truancy. These demands often result in limited time for submitting individual college planning. This is especially true when application deadlines approach and questions abound.

This season, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), College Mentoring Network (CGN), and Schoolhouse.world (all of which I share in some capacity) have partnered with volunteers from college admissions offices and high school counseling offices for support counselors and students. Who serve them by asking application questions at the last minute. NACAC is “an organization of more than 26,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing post-secondary education.” CGN’s mission is to “empower school counselors to better support their college and career-related students—along with their families—to confidently navigate the college admissions process to make good, financially responsible decisions.” Their goal is to “provide all students and parents access to the best experts and unbiased information to achieve the best possible outcomes and greatest long-term success.” Schoolhouse.world is a non-profit organization founded by Sal Khan (founder of Khan Academy), “offering free, peer-to-peer virtual tutoring in math, science, and more to students around the world.”

A shared commitment to supporting students on their path to college inspired this unique collaboration between the three organizations. They offer an opportunity on two different days before application deadlines for students to zoom in and get answers in real time as they finalize applications. The first four-hour deadline was held on Sunday, October 30, with admissions leaders from the University of Chicago, Georgia Institute of Technology, Washington University in St. Louis, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania. High school counselors from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Colorado and California also set up the hotline. Hundreds of students and their supporters from across the United States and 17 different countries have taken advantage of this opportunity to ask about tests, essays, financial aid, activities, and more.

Rick Clark, Associate Vice Dean and Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech volunteered his time and said: “The college admissions process can be daunting and unclear at times. Especially before deadlines, students are understandably stressed. I am grateful that this program has created a space for students to ask their questions, seek clarity, hear from each other, and also directly from admissions experts We need more of these kinds of communication opportunities in the future, to provide solace and encouragement through experience, insight, and good information.” adds Xena Wang, admissions counselor at the University of Pennsylvania“I am grateful for giving students comfort and clarity when finalizing their college applications. It was also an important learning experience to understand the questions that were on the minds of high school students so that we could better support them in the future.” Candace McKee, a college counselor at Los Angeles’ Center for Enriched Studies, also supported the hotline and explains: “The Deadline Hotline is a last-minute resource for all students to access and the opportunity to ask questions of college counselors and admissions specialists or seek guidance and reassurance before hitting submit on their college application.”

The next hotline will be held on Tuesday, November 29 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM ET on the eve of the UCLA application deadline and through the regular decision deadlines in December and January. Admissions leaders from the University of California (Berkeley, San Diego, and Santa Cruz), Florida State University, and Trinity College donate their time to help students apply to any college or university. They will be joined by high school counselors from California.

Richard Weissbord is the faculty director of Making Caring Common, a Harvard Graduate School project, and leader of the Turning the Tide in College initiative. He says, “Now more than ever, we must find ways to improve access and equity in college admissions.” He adds, “This initiative represents a positive collaboration and an excellent resource for students to submit applications with confidence.”

Whether you’re preparing for a holiday or your future, you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for answers, draw on these resources, and be guided by gratitude this holiday season.

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