My guest is college admissions consultant Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md.
By Bruce Vinik
The college admissions process isn't for the faint of heart. From the time kids first set foot in high school to the moment they walk across the stage to pick up their diplomas, everything they do counts for something.
While the majority of ninth and tenth graders are not wrapped up in the college hysteria that strikes their older friends (and parents), most are aware that, at some level, they are playing for keeps for the first time. By the time students hit junior year, inevitably their anxiety begins to mount.
There's so much for students to do during the final two years of high school. They need to keep their grades up, play basketball, practice the oboe, write an editorial for their school newspaper, hold down a summer job, hang out with friends, eat an occasional meal with their family, visit colleges, complete applications and take a number of standardized tests.
As challenging as it is for most students to navigate the college admissions process, it is far tougher for those individuals who are interested in attending one of the service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine). Not only do they have to do all the things that their classmates are doing to apply to college, they must also pass a medical evaluation and a physical fitness test.
But there's more. With the exception of those students applying to the Coast Guard Academy , which allows students to apply directly for admission, most applicants to the other academies must receive an official "nomination" from one of their members of Congress or from the Vice President of the United States (though the VP does not have the authority to nominate applicants to the Merchant Marine Academy).
A nomination is not an offer of admission; it simply gives a student the opportunity to apply for admission to one of the schools. And each year, more than 75% of the individuals who apply for admission to the service academies are turned down.
Because the Vice President and members of the House and Senate are allotted a very limited number of highly prized nominations, the competition to receive one is intense. In order to maximize their chances, students have little choice but to submit applications to all four of their potential nominators.
This means completing four separate and different applications. Virtually all nominators require students to submit test scores as part of their evaluation process; unfortunately, when it comes to standardized testing, the nomination process is anything but standardized.
In Maryland, some nominators require SAT scores or give preference to the SAT while others allow students to submit scores from either the SAT or the ACT.
Nominators who do not give students a choice are doing them a disservice. Every college in the United States, including each of the five service academies, allows applicants to take either the SAT or the ACT for admission.
A student who has decided to focus exclusively on the ACT should not be forced to take on the added cost and time-consuming preparation that the SAT requires. The nomination and application process is stressful enough without penalizing a significant number of high school students who are interested in serving their country. It would be nice if those members of the House and Senate who are overly devoted to the SAT would reconsider their position.
After all, if the ACT is good enough for West Point, it should be good enough for our elected officials.
Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md., worked for 25 years in schools. At private Georgetown Day School, he served as director of college counseling, director of admissions and financial aid, and as assistant middle school principal. He was the high school principal at private Barrie School in Maryland, and has taught history, English and math at the middle and high school levels.
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