Wednesday, March 16, 2011

College Interviews for Seventh Graders

I ran across this article in the newspaper recently “Around Dublin: The University of Dublin at Fallon

I liked the way this article begins,

“PRESSURE? You bet. The average GPA for incoming freshmen at the top University of California schools this past year was higher than a "perfect" 4.0 (4.39 at Cal, 4.37 at UCLA -- both weighted).

Due to the economy, the number of entry-level jobs available for graduating high school and college seniors has declined.

If you ask the average high school student, you likely will find that they are painfully aware of the statistics. They feel the pressure. In addition, many don't yet feel fully prepared for what lies ahead, whether it be the SATs and the college admission process, or in graduating and then heading into the work force.”

But then, the article took an unfortunate turn,

“Sensing an opportunity, Fallon Middle School teachers Adam Gelb and Michael Ruegg have developed what they call the "University of Dublin at Fallon" program to give students as young as seventh-graders an opportunity to start developing skills normally emphasized at the high school level.
"We wanted to give them a dry run for not only looking for a job, but above and beyond to explain what makes them different," Gelb said. "How do they stand out? How to do an interview? How to evaluate themselves? Because they are going to need to do that starting in high school."

During this past semester, the teachers led the first 150 students through the program. The students had to be responsible for completing an "application" to the university; build a résumé that goes beyond just GPA; write a personal statement to let readers better understand more about the student; practice a standardized test; and, what Gelb said may have been the most anticipated part of the program, take part in a live interview.”

I think this is the wrong way to approach the issue of too much pressure and too much emphasis on high GPAs for high school kids. In fact, I’ll bet many parents (and students) reading about 7th graders preparing college applications, interviews and résumé-building felt enormous pressure at the thought of doing this at that young of an age.

The article went on:

"’Kids spend so much time today texting and playing video games that when they are placed in front of a live person they don't really know what to do," Gelb said.”

I do agree with this, but I think teachers can incorporate face-to-face interactions with students in the regular classroom without putting seventh graders through mock college application interviews. Parents can also put limits on screen time and insist on more face-to-face time with their kids in their daily lives.

The article continued:

“The result is a program that received a great deal of positive feedback from students, parents and teachers. It may be expanded into other grade levels at Fallon, and it is being looked at by teachers at schools around the state. In fact, Gelb and Ruebb have been invited to speak about the University of Dublin at Fallon project at an upcoming state teachers conference, and to future teachers at Cal State East Bay.

"Our goal was to empower our students," Ruegg said. "By demystifying interviews, personal statements and résumé-building, we hope to give our students a leg up when the stakes are higher. Early practice in a stress-free environment can build student confidence."

Wow, I am baffled at the short-sightedness of this program. It seems to be yet another example of treating all kids like they aspire to be in the top 10% - the ones who actually end up going to a UC or equivalent school where they need a 4.0 or higher GPA to even be considered for acceptance.

I have no issue with teaching students interview skills. But I think the interview skills should be age appropriate. High school is a good time to teach students college and job interview skills. Even though, sadly, most high school students (in our neighborhood at least) don’t have jobs because they are too busy doing homework and building their résumés for their college applications after school and on weekends.

Talk about pressure. Let’s stop pushing the requirements for college on younger and younger students. Let middle school kids be middle school kids. Yes, teach them good interpersonal skills both in school and out of school, but don’t start résumé-building and interviewing for college at age 12.

Your thoughts?


  1. I think that 7th grade should prepare students really, really well to succeed, not in college, but in 8th grade! Kids get short changed when adults try to "give a leg up" too soon. It's like getting the leg up to get on the horse before the horse is even there - what happens? You fall down.

    Middle school kids spending too much time face down doing worksheets and preparing college resumes instead of face up discussing concepts and ideas with their class mates, teachers and parents is the problem. No wonder kids turn to screens to space out and unwind with so much pressure to win the race before the start gun even goes off.

    And Kerry is right - kids will spend too much time on screens, but only if you let them.

  2. I think it is really scary to hear that there is a focus on demystifying college interviewing and resume writing in 7th grade when there should be a focus on demystifying the discovery and pursuit of your talents, passions and ideas. Pursuing what you love and what motivates you IS college prep for middle schoolers. It seems that teaching the kids how to "stand out" from a pool of applicants when there hasn't even been a chance to "swim" in a pool teaches competitiveness without insight or experience. Don't get me wrong: I love to see a kid really go for doing their best in a competition for what they want. But they have to KNOW what they want and FEEL that they are the right match for deserving the opportunity. If they don't get that opportunity to explore and learn about what they want in the future, then we are just teaching blind competitiveness.