How to Navigate Vaccine and Mask Mandates with Your Students and Families

More than 18 months into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to impact the landscape of college admissions and how life on campuses looks these days. With mask and vaccine mandates varying across the country—as well as the responses to them from prospective students and their families—many IECA members are looking for suggestions about how to guide parents and students through this tumultuous time. IECA Secretary/Treasurer Ibrahim Firat (TX) offers this perspective and advice.

Stay Informed about a College’s Mandates and its Political Climate

Our office is staying informed about college mandates/requirements by reaching out to current and past students (who are in college now) to hear what they are experiencing; reading the Chronicle of Higher Education’s up-to-date information about colleges’ vaccine mandates and other requirements; and staying in touch with admissions office contacts.

We rely on current/past student feedback, online forums, student-published media (newspaper, radio, podcast etc.), events on campus, and faculty-led research/publications to keep our pulse on the political climate of the college.

Provide Context for Vaccine Mandates

Just as size, location, academics, etc. are factors to decide where to go to college, so are rules/regulations/mandates. Vaccine mandates are not new, however; certain vaccines (i.e. meningitis) have been required by colleges for some time, so we start by reminding that this has been around. Secondly, we remind parents that their college-bound student is (or by the time they go off to college will be) 18+/adult and that it really is their decision to further pursue discussions with the school about mandates. Thirdly, colleges have been providing religious and/or health-related exemptions to mandates and that they can look into these options if necessary/applicable.

Continue to Guide Students and Families According to Best-Fit

There is a fine line between making this issue political and scientific versus completely college admissions or fit related. We do not get into the politics or the science of it as we are NOT the experts in those areas. We do get into the factors of selecting the right-fit college for the individual student/family’s values, and if certain school’s mandates are against those values, then it is simply an X rather than a checkmark next to that factor and we treat it as such. For some people, that X means everything; for some people that X is just another factor that may not fit them (i.e. size of campus/class size) and it may be okay.

College life on campus is shifting from all angles (i.e. living, dining, political climate, frats/sororities, etc.). How can we support families who are trying to find the best-fit college in this dynamic environment? It is a challenge, given that we still cannot visit most universities in person to gather updated info and get a feel for these “vibes.” But we must use the resources available to us to find the college that best matches the student’s educational, social, professional, and personal growth.

Ibrahim Firat, Firat Educational Solutions, LLC, can be reached at [email protected]

We Believe

With a new docudrama on the Varsity Blues Scandal coming out this month on Netflix, as well as potential legislation impacting independent educational consultants (IECs) in several states, the IECA Board recognizes that the general public may not understand what IECA is and what guides our actions. These “We Believe” statements are meant to complement our mission and values and demonstrate IEC’s ongoing commitment to all young people.

1) We believe all students should have access to individualized educational guidance that will help them achieve their goals.

2) We believe independent educational consultants should act respectfully, honestly, compassionately, ethically, and professionally with every student.

3) We believe in the potential of all students regardless of cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, sexual orientation, unique needs, or learning differences.

4) We believe that education should be available and affordable to all families.

5) We believe independent educational consultants are uniquely equipped to guide and support students toward their personal, academic, social, and professional goals.

6) We believe in the power of education to widen opportunities for everyone which will ultimately improve society for all.

 

2020 Rankings Released: What Colleges are Looking for in Applicants

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

For more than 20 years, the Independent Educational Consultants Association has surveyed its member college admission experts to determine what colleges want to see in their applicants, creating a ranking to assist students and their parents in understanding how college applicants are reviewed after submission. Of course, all colleges are different and IECA members can be particularly helpful in understanding those variances.

Among the key 2020 findings:

• While grades are important (#2 in rankings), colleges want to see students challenging themselves, willing to risk perfect GPAs by taking courses that will demonstrate a willingness to take chances, including AP and IB coursework (#1).

• Despite all the talk about “test optional,” scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT remain critical (#3)

• Extra-curriculars rose to their highest level ever in the IECA rankings (#4), but colleges look for a long-term, passionate, authentic involvement in one or two activities whether in or out of school. No one is impressed by a long list of tangential clubs. In fact, jumping two spots (to #6) this year: demonstration of leadership within those chosen few activities.

• Essays remain important and are even more important at smaller colleges. But students misunderstand their role. Yes, clear and cogent writing matters, but a great essay is one that tells a story, giving insight into a student’s unique personality. There’s a great saying—no one else should be able to write the essay you submit for admission.

• Coming together are four items that speak to the question: what can YOU do for US? Colleges wonder how the student will contribute to campus life: through unique characteristics or demographics (#7), through special talents (#9), through interest in research (#10), and through demonstrations of a student’s character and values (#11).

• How does a student demonstrate all those? Through the essay, the activities list, and through recommendations, which turned up as #8 on the 2020 rankings.

• Finally, an area students often don’t understand is demonstration of interest and enthusiasm in attending (#12). Are you following the college on Facebook? Did you visit the campus? Seek an interview? Colleges don’t like to extend an offer of admission to a student who will go elsewhere, so when you decide on your first choice, let them know!

The complete survey results can be found here.

How IECs Help Level the Playing Field in College Admissions

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, Independent Educational Consultants Association

I am pleased that in response to the recent college admission scam, many are looking for solutions that address colleges, athletic programs, the role of privilege, and the role of independent college counselors. Unfortunately, some have suggested a solution that would increase the benefits to the already privileged.

Some opinion pieces have appeared suggesting that no one should be allowed to charge for college admission advice. This attitude favors the wealthy, privileged families that are able to send their children to private schools, often costing in the tens of thousands of dollars and whose college counselors serve small numbers of just 20-30 students. Such a system provides a benefit to those privileged enough to provide such support, while leaving public school students behind. These public schoolers often face impossible ratios of 600 to 900 students per counselor—with that counselor handling crisis intervention, course selection, as well as college advising.

Independent Educational Consultants (IECs) help level the playing field by supporting working- and middle-class students who go to public school, by allowing families of more modest means to gain similar expert help and advice at an hourly rate that is affordable for most. In addition, all members of IECA commit to efforts to serve those from underserved communities.

Those that want to stop the use of all paid assistance (would they refuse paid tutors for students struggling in school, as well?) misunderstand the fundamental role of independent educational consultants. IECs help students explore college opportunities and find the right place for them to succeed academically and socially. IECs don’t get students admitted—they help students demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted at appropriately chosen schools. They help students find colleges they might not have heard of—often out of their region—and they help students put their best foot forward.

 

Junior Schools: The Best Kept Secret of Boarding Options

By Heather Eckert, Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management, Indian Mountain School

After sitting on the secondary school side of the admission desk for years, I admit that I was not exactly sure what awaited me when I took over the admission efforts at a boarding and day school for grades preK–9. Yes, I had worked with graduates from junior boarding schools during my time at secondary schools, and I had a strong sense of the school communities, programs, character development, and diverse classroom and elective offerings they could provide. I was used to seeing the educational outcomes at secondary schools; in my new role, I was able to witness the transformative journey that takes place at a junior boarding school.

As I begin my third year, I have seen firsthand how profound and necessary this type of educational experience is for so many adolescents. Junior boarding schools are remarkable places where middle school students can live and learn. Quite frankly, they are the best kept secret in the boarding school—and middle school—landscape.

Experts in Middle School Education

For decades, junior boarding schools have focused on and studied the transformative—and sometimes tumultuous—middle school years. They are experts on creating innovative, caring, close-knit residential communities where the faculty and administrators not only understand students in that age group, but are leaders in their craft. They truly “get” what it means to be a 10–15-year-old. With academics, electives, weekend activities, and leadership roles, the 24/7 learning environment enables students to embrace a growth mindset and develop independence by living away from home as a sixth through ninth grader. It’s a place where it is cool to be smart and to want to learn and a home for students who might otherwise be in a classroom where not all their peers are on the same page academically or where learning is a secondary focus. For those who are ready, it is an environment where students will find like-minded friends, committed and passionate teachers, and the opportunity to be challenged and stimulated daily in so many ways.

Personalized Academic Approach

By meeting students where they are, junior boarding schools can appropriately challenge and support middle schoolers in the right context and at a pace that is optimal for each individual student. With experienced academic support structures in place, schools can set a wide range of learners up for success. For high-achieving students, the transition is often seamless. From day one, students are met with passionate faculty who are ready to inspire and share their love of learning. A variety of programs and learning supports area available to help students who need more academic support, who may have a difficult time in other ways, or who may have felt like an “other” at their previous schools.

At my school, for example, I love that tutoring happens during study hall and in our library. Weaving academic support into daily life creates a culture where it’s cool to be tutored—or not to be. Because of that supportive environment, students often emerge with a new lease on their academic life, displaying renewed confidence and excitement for learning. Certain junior schools are known for specific areas of expertise or specialized offerings, so it is crucial to do a bit of research before visits. Character development is also a central part of school missions and an essential focus. Graduates should not only be ready for their next step academically but also leave with a strong moral compass and global sense of responsibility and citizenship.

Depth and Breadth of Offerings

When students arrive with distinct passions, junior boarding schools guide them to expand on those deep interests with a wide range of opportunities that are similar to what secondary schools offer. Have a student who is obsessed with coding? Basketball? Sustainability? Speech and debate? Marine biology? Wants to try squash? The list goes on. Others are looking for more variety and balance, and with so many options in one place, schools can provide access to learning opportunities in and out of the classroom that students may have never known existed (or were not possible) in their previous school settings. I had an advisee from Hawaii who could not physically get to all of her after-school activities because of transportation and logistical issues. She loved soccer, dance, engineering, and wanted to be in the rock band. She found a school that had all of that and more under one roof.

Safety and Structure Plus Independence

Striking a balance between a high level of structure (particularly compared to boarding high schools) and the chance for students to gain independence and time-management experience, junior boarding schools are caring communities that cultivate the skills necessary for students to be ready for secondary options and beyond. With around-the-clock supervision even on the weekends, they encourage students to explore, learn, grow, and, most importantly, have fun in a community where safety is key—and there may happen to be a few faculty kids, dogs, chickens, and cats to make it really feel like home away from home.

Is Junior Boarding School the Right Next Step?

This may not come as a surprise, but the best way to determine whether a junior boarding school is right for a child is to visit campuses. Admission offices often hear that students come home inspired after an amazing summer camp experience or they watch older siblings return home from a secondary boarding school and are hungry for a similar opportunity. Sometimes younger students would benefit from repeating grade 8 or 9 before high school for a variety of reasons, or students want to test out the boarding waters for one or two years before committing to a high school program. If you have not visited a junior boarding school, don’t miss out on those special school communities and add a visit to your to-do list in the weeks or months ahead.

Heather Eckert can be reached at [email protected] mountain.org.

Making Character Count in Admission

by Mark H. Sklarow, Chief Executive Officer, Independent Educational Consultants Association

Let’s assume you were an admission director for a day. One spot remains for the class of 2019 with two folders in front of you. Candidate A is a brilliant young woman, with a 4.0 GPA which she achieved without breaking a sweat. In fact, she cruised through high school, never once experiencing a downturn personally or academically. Candidate B achieved a GPA a bit lower, let’s say a 3.6. But she did it faced with challenges: personal, familial, and academic. She wasn’t scared off by tough classes and succeeded with grit, determination, and a healthy dose of persistence.

Securing Students’ Success, not Admission, Makes IECA Unique

By Mark Sklarow, CEO, IECA

Recently, a small group of new independent educational consultants (IECs)—all college-focused—were gathered at an IECA event. Seeing me, they waved me over. Why, they wondered, did we not have the word admission in the organization’s name? I noted that the word admission didn’t appear in our name, our by-laws, our purpose statement, or any tag line at any point in our 40-year history. Jaws dropped.