Ever feel like you're watching a train wreck? (Friends asking for advice during the application process)

After going through the process, doing extensive research, and hanging out on CC for a while, I think many of us feel we have a pretty good handle on this college admissions thing. Not necessarily the minute details of each specific school, but more of a big-picture overview.

So… do you ever feel like you’re watching a trainwreck when friends are going through the process? I’ve felt that way a few times and each time it’s come to fruition. These friends/acquaintances have not asked for any advice, so I’ve just watched from afar and filed their experiences away in my “Yeah, I had a feeling” bank.

Well… now I have a co-worker who keeps coming to me for advice and then not following ANY of it. The funny thing is that this is what she is like with work issues as well, so all of my co-workers are finding it quite humorous. Today she told me she called to interview a consultant and wasn’t going to hire her because she was so offended by what she told her. Turns out, the consultant and I are on the exact same page :rofl: The biggest problem with this is that she’s actually asked for advice (and I was dumb enough to give it) and it is someone I see every day, so no more watching from afar. :face_with_peeking_eye:


I try to not give college advice in the real world, just smile and nod. For me it is like not giving advice on money or investing to friends or family - same reasons that you’ve given above.

Trainwrecks are never fun to watch, either from a distance or (in your case) up close. Hoping you are able to disengage so you won’t be dragged down in the wreckage.


If you don’t feel like you’d be too recognizable, I’d say that you’d heard of this website called College Confidential and that you found a lot of the advice useful. Of course, if you go this route, I’d edit your original post. :wink:


I have been asked for advise in the real world a few times I try to not get to deeply involved especially with friends
I basically listen and tell them based on the info you are giving me this is what i would advise my kids to do and leave it at that.
I will try to point them to information to try and make their own decisions as well


I’ve thought about that but I don’t want to be recognized, so I’ll just listen to someone complain her child wasn’t accepted at most colleges due to being white, even though the rejections were ones I would’ve predicted.


We watched this with very very good friends. Kid was val, high SAT scores, excellent GPA, excellent ECs…really an excellent student. Applied to two Ivy League schools and one OOS public. There were a LOT of great options between that OOS public and the Ivies where this kid would have been very welcome and would likely have received significant need based aid.

Kid matriculated to the OOS public. It was a horrible spring senior year as the kid was waitlisted at both Ivies and subsequently was denied admission.

I will say…it all worked out well. Kid got undergrad and masters in four years AND got a huge departmental merit award after freshman year.

But that senior year was no fun for the kid and those of us watching…and the family.


Yep, more frequently than I would like. I do direct people to this site though.

In my circle, the biggest issue is overshooting the list and not having real safeties because the kid wouldn’t be happy to attend.

I only give advice when specifically asked, and I don’t feel badly if it’s disregarded.


I try always to respond to outright racism.


Me too. And I point out that white students are still the largest racial group admitted each year.


I’ve helped two close friends with their kids’ application processes and all worked out well. If I’m not asked, I keep my mouth shut.

My daughter’s close friend had an out of state public as the dream school. I couldn’t help it, I asked the girl if her parents know what that would cost. She said they told her all was fine. Shocking, I know, she got in, her parents were stunned by the cost and wouldn’t let her go. She was so sad to be the only one of their group going to CC.

My S23 had a close friend who applied to 5 schools. Two ivies, two ivy level publics, and a super low safety that made no sense. He, shockingly, was only admitted at the safety. Over the summer he decided he didn’t want to go there, so he’s a Sal at CC and not happy about it. He could have had so many good choices if his parents didn’t leave him to his own devices.


Considering I’ve shown her how to look up the common data set 3 times and she even did it once on her own, she still hasn’t figured out that DCs dream school is completely out of their league, I really don’t think she’s going to be spending much time on CC.

When she called a college counselor to help DC do their essay for their dream school the CC asked for stats and if they were a recruited athlete. Then when CC told her not to bother applying she was so mad because “they don’t even know DC”. I had to laugh (to myself of course) because an AO doesn’t know them either. Not to be mean, but it’s now becoming an ongoing joke at work because it’s so on brand.


All the time. The high flying kids at our high school are often T20 or bust.

I posted on another thread about a friend’s son who only applied to MIT and three other colleges he was not excited to attend. There was also the kid who belittled those going to the state flagship. He was so confident that he was going to a top UC. Guess where that kid ended up?

But I would have been laughed out of the room if I had suggested Pitt or UAB—where a friend’s daughter studied CS and landed a great job—to those families. I feel sad for the kids.


Well, I understand about watching train wrecks. I posted about one in the Say it here thread, but since I got the information secondhand, and the decisions have already been made, I definitely can’t insert myself into the situation, even if I wanted to. I have an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach for them, but there’s not much I can do except feel for the kids when the train actually wrecks.


Here is what I see as a train wreck rather than just going in with not enough information. I’ll start with some previous train wrecks and move on to this one.

Trainwreck 1: Student went to one of the highest ranked HS in the country where all classes were APs. Did well, but so did every student there. Mother was convinced he was brilliant. Did not participate in any ECs. Mother thought being in NHS was very prestigious and would be the end all be all in the EC category. She disregarded all suggestions of the guidance counselor as “not selective enough”.
Kid told mother he only wanted to go to a hyper local school or CC as he personally doesn’t believe in spending a lot of money on college and wanted to live at home (parents were paying, but they couldn’t really afford anything beyond what the child was asking for). He truly didn’t even want to go to college as he thought he didn’t need to and had a philosophical view that going to an expensive school just wasn’t worth it. He didn’t know what he wanted to major in.
Mom proceeded to do his applications for him and picked the schools he’d apply to. They went on some visits and kid was completely disinterested. When acceptances came in, she was shocked that he wasn’t accepted to most places he’d applied and was devestated when one of the schools that she deemed “selective enough” accepted him, but they couldn’t afford it. He ended up at a state school that she constantly would tell me “was as selective as XXX”. Not surprisingly, he didn’t last the year. He is home now, working and attending one class at a CC and she is out of her mind that he is “throwing his life away”.

Train wreck 2: Very bright kid with obvious mental health issues that weren’t addressed. Committed to a school due to parental pressure, but never even made it to orientation. Now is at home and won’t leave the house. Parent is viewing college as the measure of success rather than getting him healthy.

Train wreck 3-8 (or so): Students ( some who needed academic support and carried GPAs that while “not great” were better than they would have been without someone chasing them down and then sitting down with them to get their work done) who were barely D3 athletes (some weren’t even starters on their high school team) who only considered their sport when applying to college. We see a lot of that where we live. Sadly, our LPS guidance counselors and AD are incompetent and provide no guidance to these kids.

Current train wreck: Kid does not have the stats for his dream school. Their list is only based on “prestige”. Not only is kid looking at schools with 4% acceptance rates, but they are also applying to the most competitive major. I’ve tried asking “Why does kid love (dream school)? Look for schools that have the same programs/ offerings/feel to create a list of reach/match/likely schools.” Kid literally will only say that all he cares about is prestige. Both the school GC and a paid college counselor have told the parent that he is not a match for the schools on his list.
Other major red flags are that the kid has no real ECs (played a sport freshman year and was shocked that he had to show up every day for practice and not just for the matches so gave it up) and is not going to have good LORs. The parent brought him on a tour of our state flagship, which just so happens to have one of the best programs in the major of his choosing and he wouldn’t even finish the tour because “all they are trying to do is sell the school”. Hates any kind of group or cooperative work, yet is looking at schools that value being able to work as part of a team and even lists those qualities as something they look for in candidates. The kind of schools they are looking at are “Have you cured cancer schools” and they are a “But I wrote an app” kid.
The parent was concerned because the kid was struggling to complete the supplemental essays and know when things needed to be turned in so they hired someone to help. I bit my tongue, but so wanted to ask “Do you really think the other kids applying to the most selective school in the country need someone to hold their hand through the process? How do you think he will function at this ultra-selective school if by some miracle he gets in?”


I usually respond with something like “That’s a great school. It’s amazing how hard it’s become to get into.” Or “Sure. For $70,000 a year, it should be a dream!”

If my comment sends them home to check something, great! Occasionally, it’s allowed the conversation to go on to how you can check the CDS or whatever, but otherwise, I wait for the train wreck.


Yes, definitely am censoring myself.

I help friends sort through some of the terminology, factors, application details, and the process overall, and try to nudge things in the right direction here and there.

But if they want their kid to take the SAT over and over, or are trying to reach for the stars without even realizing they are doing it, then I will comment diplomatically if asked directly, but certainly will not argue the point.

I think it has worked well to let friends decide when they want my opinion, and otherwise keep my skepticism to myself. Still, they definitely have valued and benefited from a lot of information I was able to share. They now have a balanced list, they just don’t realize yet that almost certainly it will be one of those added schools that this typical “good student” will be admitted to.


I know one very high stats and super nice kid. In this kid’s case there was no hubris, just lack of knowledge. Applied to the schools that were ranked the best in his major without understanding that his major was more competitive than the overall admit rate of the schools. Didn’t apply to our flagship because it “didn’t have his major” despite the fact that our flagship actually prepares students very well for his chosen career under a closely related major. I think would have been competitive as a recruited athlete at MIT and possibly some of the Ivys, but knew nothing about the process, so didn’t pursue it.

Did not get into the Ivy+ schools. Did get into and is attending an excellent program in his chosen major at a large OOS flagship, but at a very high COA and there are multiple younger siblings. Family I think was unaware that many publics often don’t give financial aid to OOS students. This is a kid that with his NMF status could have had a free ride at a number of schools with excellent programs in his chosen major (including great industry ties) but they had no idea this options existed.

A real bummer, because again this is a really nice kid who is not a snob. I only heard about it after the fact. This is a family that would absolutely have been receptive to the idea of “Hey, throw in an app to UCF and UA-H where he will have a free ride.”


Same @AustenNut. Sometimes when I read chance me threads on this board, I get that same awful feeling; it is worse in real life.

Most of the train wrecks I’ve witness were the “down the road” wrecks, not necessarily can’t get into preferred school wrecks. Like, oldest child goes to most prestigious school they are accepted to at basically full price (>$75k/yr) because they wanted to “finally be with their peers”, is mediocre student relative to rest of student body who is weeded out of pre-med 1st semester, gets expensive BA in Psychology with vague plan for law school(?), there is no more money for Child 2 or Child 3 to go to any school other than the local directional state school.

None of the kids are happy, and the disparity of choices is something Child 2 and Child 3 have pointed out regularly. Hard on the whole family.


But why is this? I mean, when we started the process, I did tons of research. Do you think people just put too much faith in guidance counselors and rankings? I know in one of the cases I talked about above, it’s because the parent assumed it was the same process as when we applied 35 years ago. She didn’t care to learn how much it has changed.

In the current case, I can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink. I think she just sees that she has a smart kid with a good GPA and test scores so thinks he’s on even footing with others applying to single digit acceptance rate schools.

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People simply don’t know and they don’t know what they don’t know so have no idea what to look for or ask about. GCs may not be college counselors and may not know things that would matter to the family. Unless youre plugged into the college world sure you’ve heard college costs have become horrendous but you may (logically) think it means “like the inflation”, how can anyone guess that you’re talking 300 or 400% inflation compared to their days? Media speak about loans as if they came from an endless spigot of money, no qualifying criteria, kids borrow 50k! Basically every piece of pop culture Ive ever seen presents scholarships as something that happens AFTER you get in.
Even on these forums - people who found the website, are curious, ask questions-how many have never run an NPC or do not know publics do not meet need for OOS applicants (save for a literal couple)?

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