I’ve lived in South Florida nearly my entire life, and in those years I’ve noticed a curious pattern. Beginning in September, everyone (me included) seems to become a meteorologist. 

Today especially, nearly everyone I’ve run into seems to have an opinion on which direction Hurricane Dorian will travel. Mind you, not a single person I met actually studied meteorology, but they sure sound like they know what they’re talking about. I heard about the nearby high pressure system, or prior storms that followed similar paths, and even the El Nino affect.

It was quite an educational day; and I admit that more than once, I hung up the phone or ended a meeting in a slight panic, ready to make yet another Publix run. But then I remembered that I’m no expert in meteorology, and neither were the people I had just spoken with!

And though we all had clearly gleaned tidbits of knowledge from The Weather Channel, our neighbors or Denis Phillips (Jill introduced me to this guy – he’s actually quite sharp), none of the people I spoke with today had the full picture. Even with full data, none of us was an expert in deciphering the data to predict weather patterns and the direction of major storms.

And thus I think I’ll wait for instructions from the meteorologists with access and expertise in actual data.. and thus forgo the panic (and Publix).

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not about to make light of people’s concerns and desire to discuss the storm possibilities. Storms can be devastating – Jill and I rode out Andrew in ’92, Irene in ’99 and Wilma in ’05. Brian Norcross, a true meteorologist and expert, now on Channel 10, saved our sanity that night in ’92.

 And thus my point. It’s striking how similar the whole hurricane preparation situation and college planning have become today. In college planning, just like the August/September meteorologist phenomenon, every autumn I find that there are A LOT of amateur college experts, too. I am forever trying to allay the fears and manage the expectations of families who have gleaned a tidbit of information – or more often misinformation – about the process and made erroneous assumptions about their own situation. ‘My son’s best friends girlfriends mom told me…’

I’ve talked parents, who saw some click bait headline about some arbitrary ranking, off a proverbial ledge…and I’ve had to remind more than one seasoned parent that no two families, indeed no two children in the same family, are alike. Kids are different, family circumstances change, schools change…and like meteorology there are internal factors and external conditions that make every circumstance unique.  

And college admissions is much less of a science – and far less consistently predictive – than even meteorology. Sure, there are a set of facts (GPA, SAT/ACT Scores, legacy, first generation in college, athletic talent, extra-curricular record), that may tempt you to make predictions based on these indicators. But there is also a lot of nuance – more than you may understand. Great students with excellent numbers are denied regularly from top schools. Sometimes this is because of the heightened level of competition, with numerous schools boasting admit rates below 20% (or even 10%!). But other times it can come down to the applicant – where he attends high school, or his/her effort, desire, and professionalism when it comes to the actual application.

By the time your child enters 12th grade, they already have a GPA, hopefully a set of test scores, and a record of activities. At that point their success or failure with admissions will come down to which schools they apply to and how they construct their entire application. These two steps should not be ignored or neglected.

Clearly, predicting college admissions is not an amateur event – and like predicting the path of a hurricane – one best left to experts. And even then, there is a cone of uncertainty. 

That said, there are ways to ensure that your child is building the right strategy – with the right data points – to increase their odds of success in admissions and once on campus. 

Of course I know that there are a number of people who are reading this who are in the path of Dorian and thus college planning seems like a secondary concern. I get this – we can talk more about your family’s higher education concerns another time.

For now, from my family to yours, I want to wish us all a safe week ahead. As we have so many times before, we’ll get through this together. 

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