Why We Don’t Want 100% College Acceptance

College Banners

By Richard Barth, Chief Executive Officer, KIPP Foundation

“Match Matters.” We say that a lot at KIPP. It’s something we have really come to appreciate, particularly in the last several years of helping our kids get to, and all the way through college. Research, combined with our own students’ experiences have taught us how important it is that kids choose to attend a college that is a strong match and fit for their abilities and needs—academically, socially and financially AND has a strong graduation rate.

KIPP Through College counselors work with our students every day to help them find and apply to a healthy mix of colleges and we’ve come to realize the scope of college counseling is not limited to college counselors. So, like most KIPP teams, KIPP Austin holds a “Monthly Match Meeting” which brings together the regional executive director, school principals and other leaders to discuss the progress of individual students in the college application process. In doing so, they identify ways to support these students and at the same time, identify trends that enable them to improve their counseling work with their junior and senior classes. I was invited to attend KIPP Austin’s September Monthly Match Meeting and see this work in action. Here are a few of my big takeaways from that session:

  1. We need to celebrate risk-taking and healthy stretching in selecting schools, instead of 100% acceptance to college. One of the things we’re trying to shift this year is what we celebrate—rather than striving for a student to be accepted to 100% of the colleges to which he applies, we need to strive for our KIPPsters to apply to three reach, three match, and three likely colleges, and celebrate when she or he is accepted to some of these. It’s okay to not be accepted to every school one applies to – in fact, we need to embrace the fact that we are not doing our jobs if our KIPPsters are getting in to every school to which they apply. Additionally, this is a good opportunity to teach our students that failure is part of the process, and that only by taking smart risks will we be able to get the best possible outcome—in this case, getting into a reach school. This is a mindset shift that requires whole-school support.
  2. It is critical to REALLY know our students. At KIPP, we are very data-driven, and our match work is no exception—we provide our counselors and students with tools that make use of GPA and ACT data to make college recommendations and to assess whether students have enough reach, match, and likely schools on their wish lists (defined respectively as schools in which students have a 20-50%, 50-80%, and an 80%+ chance of being admitted). But the data can’t tell the whole story and has to be supplemented with individual student context. Does this student have an interest in pursuing engineering? Does she have an older sister at college who she wants to follow? KIPP Austin does a great job of this, while still setting and attaining high goals for students’ wish list and application submissions to match and reach colleges.
  3. Match isn’t just about counseling. It’s about everything we do starting as early as possible to get students on a college-ready path. I saw KIPP Austin engaging in thoughtful conversations with ambitious and meaningful goals in mind around students’ applications, and was impressed by the quality of counseling that our students there are receiving. Everyone there acknowledges, though, for students who have low GPAs and/or SAT/ACT scores, options are limited and financial aid is often not an option. Everything we can do as a network to set our students up for success as early as possible is worthwhile. Because many of our students enter KIPP below grade level, they must make more than one year of growth each year in order to be ready for the rigors of college by the time they graduate high school. How do we keep not just the idea of college but the hard work of college readiness at the forefront for our students, our families, and ourselves? This is the work, and it’s such important work.

I’m deeply grateful to the KIPP Austin team for allowing me to participate in their Monthly Match Meeting and share in their learnings so that I can share that learning with you. And I am also deeply grateful to each and every individual who is investing the time it takes to support students through a thoughtful college application and selection process.


Learn more about KIPP Through College programs >