Novel Thinking About Admission (Entry 2) – Starting with Questions & Being Curious

Chris Boehm
Inspiration taken from Think Again, by Adam Grant, which was Archmere Academy’s summer reading book for 2021.
I read to find nuggets of inspiration to make me better at my job and help our students with their college process. It’s amazing how, with an open mind, you can find resources that apply to the college process in almost anything you read. I trust that my peers, parents, and students navigating the college search and application process will find it thought-provoking and perhaps, just maybe, useful.
Literally moments before writing this entry I was thrilled to see that Whitney Soule, dean of admission at the University of Pennsylvania, also found Adam Grant’s book helpful in her work and referenced a quote from him about integrity in a recent blog entry.
Grant’s recommendations to question conventional wisdom, understand bias, be curious about what we don’t know, and commit to the search of the truth is applicable to any situation. I’ve cherry-picked some of my favorite quotes and ideas, and applied them to the college search process.
Start With Questions:When we’re in scientific mode, we refuse to let our ideas become ideologies. We don’t start with answers or solutions, we lead with questions and puzzles…We don’t just have healthy skepticism about other people’s arguments; we dare to disagree with our own arguments.” (page 26 of Think Again)
A healthy college search starts with reflection by the student and acceptance that they (and their parents) don’t know everything. Reflection requires the student to look inward to act outward. Students aren’t one-size-fits-all, they need to understand their uniqueness by answering questions about themselves and learning about what makes them happy and successful. Understanding these unique qualities will allow them to move forward in the pursuit of colleges that fit their personalities and strengths, appreciate their values, and challenge them to grow beyond what they thought they were capable of.
Don’t Rely on Feigned Knowledge: “…teach kids to think like fact-checkers: the guidelines include: (1) ‘interrogate information instead of simply consuming it,’ (2) ‘reject rank and popularity as a proxy for reliability,’ and (3) ‘understand that the sender of information is often not its source.’” (page 190 of Think Again)
Too often students and families rely on easily accessed sources of information when drawing conclusions about universities. The typical list of resources include: friends, relatives, personal experience, rankings, and the extremely reliable “we heard from someone that…” From these founts, conclusions like the following are easily reached: Wharton is the best business school, Julliard is the most renowned music school, Swarthmore is extremely liberal, Syracuse is a party school, and college is the best path for a student (I hope I haven’t insulted anyone with these generalities). Students must understand that while most of these sources wish to provide genuine assistance, they all come with their own bias, are providing information without an awareness of your uniqueness, and may be regurgitating information that was provided to them by unknown sources. Students, don’t simply consume information about colleges, do research (visit schools, talk to community members, find outcomes, relate facts to the qualities you’re searching for in a school), question reputations, see communities with your lens and not someone else’s, and invest time in proving the advice you’re given is fact or fiction. This even includes assistance provided to you by your college counselor – I am human, I have biases, I share second-hand information, and I am not perfect (ouch, that hurt the ego).
Preventing Escalation of Commitment: We all have notions of who we want to be and how we hope to lead our lives. They’re not limited to careers; from an early age, we develop ideas about where we’ll love, which schools we’ll attend, what kind of person we’ll marry, and how many kids we’ll have. These images can inspire us to set bolder goals and guide us toward a path to achieve them. The danger of these plans is they can give us tunnel vision, blinding us to alternative possibilities. We don’t know how time and circumstances will change what we want and even who we want to be, and locking our life GPS onto a single target can give us the right directions to the wrong destination.” (pages 228 & 229 of Think Again)
WOW! That’s a lot to digest. Grant’s chapter on Escaping Tunnel Vision is mainly about career choices and paths – a great read. I’ll keep this observation short and general – (1) students be flexible, curious, and open minded about your college search, (2) a student determines their future success, not the college they attend, and (3) admission to a particular school is not a validation of a student’s achievements – it’s an invitation to continue to learn, develop, and pursue future goals.
If you haven’t read Think Again, I highly recommend the investment in time.
Archmere Academy is a private, Catholic, college preparatory co-educational academy,
grades 9-12 founded in 1932 by the Norbertine Fathers.