A TRIBUTE TO UNSUNG HEROES: College Counselors | James Wickenden | 7 Min Read

Having recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the declining percentage of applicants to highly selective colleges being offered admission, I decided to go public with an article about my admiration for the job done by many college counselors. 

I’ll start with the obvious.  When a young man or woman is offered admission to an institution of higher education that has an acceptance rate of under 10 percent, I suspect that the reaction of one of the lucky few could be described as “Well I worked hard and as a result, I deserved to be admitted.”

Conversely, when a candidate is notified that he or she was not admitted to one of these highly selective institutions, the applicant and possibly the parents might look for someone to blame.  Most likely, the college counselors would occupy the bullseye of that target. If such is the case, then bear with me for trying to identify the various forces that complicate the decision-making process of these highly selective colleges and universities. 

The complicating factors are as follows:

Institutions of higher education make decisions that are in their best interests.  

As has been mentioned in multiple articles about admissions to colleges accepting under 10 percent of those who apply, those who might receive special treatment from the Admissions Committee are Development cases (youngsters whose family could make significant donations to the institution), legacies (applicants whose parent or parents attended the institution to which the candidate has applied), candidates who are interested in majoring in under-enrolled departments that are staffed by tenured faculty members, and the offspring of children whose father or mother are tenured faculty members at the institution.

Institutions of higher education have admissions policies that usually are not publicized

One of the reasons why the admissions policies are not publicized is that they are subject to change. At the risk of stating the obvious, Affirmative Action has resulted in colleges and universities becoming much more diverse.  While many applaud this initiative, what most don’t realize is that Affirmative Action is difficult to define. Other candidates who receive special treatment are recruited athletes.  College counselors, however, do not know whether or not applicants from their respective schools are, in fact, included on the “special lists” that are submitted to the Admissions Office.  Another cohort that in recent years has increasingly populated the admitted classes of selective colleges and universities…

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Jim Wickenden

Jim is a Principal at DRG and Founder of Wickenden Associates, an affiliate of DRG. Having been the CEO of one of the premier education executive search firms in the United States, Jim brings unparalleled experience and networks to best serve clients. With over 30 years of experience identifying and guiding Heads of Schools and other senior administrators of schools across the country, Jim approaches each search with flexibility and openness that responds to the individual needs and concerns of schools and their leaders. Before founding Wickenden Associates, Jim served as the Dean of Admissions at Princeton University and Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A graduate of Tabor Academy and Princeton University, Jim holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in the General Purposes of Education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. As a former member of eight boards of independent schools with a wide range of missions and resource levels, Jim also knows firsthand the responsibilities shouldered by today’s trustees; and knows how to guide boards through tough transition processes and on good governance practices. Jim lives in Princeton, NJ, and when he is not at the office he enjoys reading enlightening books.