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Pandemic is not the only worst case scenario

In a pandemic everyone is touched by the experience. Adjustments will be made to giant bureaucratic admissions wheels. It's the events in life that strike individuals in the face of a world that keeps moving forward. Life happens, accounting for that in our college planning is why we balance a list.

A balanced college list is more than an admissions algorithm. Counselors bring their life experiences to the table, confidently knowing life is unpredictable. This unpredictability is reason enough to have students build a well-rounded list.

I'm located in Silicon Valley, CA. My students like to apply to ‘Reach’ schools. Their initial college lists glitter in their parents’ eyes. Then it starts; I suggest a safety school and the parents begin to dicker with me over the necessity of adding a safety school to the list. I say, “Because fate has a way of smacking us upside the head.”

Fortunately, parents bring their own life experiences to the table. They hear me talk of the uncertainties of life, and I hear them release a weary sigh of acknowledgement. The ‘Reach’ school is what everyone around the table likes to imagine. It's because of the unimaginable that we must also seek balance.

I’ve had 2 students who each suffered the terrible tragedy of losing a parent just months before Freshmen move-in day. One mother pleaded with her son to go on and continue his journey to the University of Chicago. She even tossed a desperate bit of guilt his way.

On an August afternoon, I sat with him while he made a choice that would carve an adult from the clay of a child before my eyes. He withdrew his candidacy from UChicago and enrolled in San Jose State University. He is graduating top of his class, and he has money for graduate school.

The other student in this scenario is a young woman who decided to accept the offer from her ‘Reach’ school. Motivated by her father’s college dreams, the decision to attend a prestigious school cost her $70,000 a year, and it took her 6 years to graduate. Being so far away from home made Freshman year more emotionally challenging than she had expected. She could have enrolled in the alternative school. She had a choice to make. Imagine if she had no alternative to consider and the same outcome occurred. Having to survive the choices we make for ourselves, is one experience. Feeling we had no other alternative is a very different experience.

COVID has caused our students and especially our parent clients to rethink campus locations. I've been zooming with families over the past few weeks while we consider the alternatives. Actually, this pandemic impacted choice is easy compared to the above conversations I've moderated. Balanced college lists are not algorithms. If they were, this student advising stuff would be easy.

Written by: Margaret Rothe: Visionary Extraordinaire,

Entrepreneur, and Founder of CounselMore 29 years of higher education experience, a Master of Higher Education Student Affairs, and owner of HigherGrounding, a college consulting firm;

Margaret’s latest endeavor-CounselMore,

a college search, list builder and professional management tool.


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