There is a deafening “noise”—online, in social circles, or in classrooms—about the “best” college, “best” SAT tutor, the correct number of AP classes to take, secret strategies to make it easier to get into a “better” college, and the “best” and “worst” majors. It is hard to ignore the steady stream of articles in news feeds about the latest frightening evidence that the best colleges are out of reach. Year after year it feels like the competition to get into college is accelerating.  

It is overwhelming!

But it doesn’t have to be. Yes, applying to college is a significant endeavor. It deserves attention and effort. However, there is a more straightforward path through the “noise” that can make the college application experience manageable and rewarding for parents and students.

The Organ Grinder and the Monkey

In my decades of working with students applying to college, I see the signs of information overload and misinformation all of the time. If you’re not an expert in the college admission process, it’s honestly hard to know what to pay attention to and what to ignore. The last thing any parent wants is to miss something that turned out to be a critical piece of information that could make the difference between a successful college application and one that ends in disaster.

The solution to information overload is already in your hands. It does not take someone like me, an expert in college admission, to turn down the noise. The secret is in a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill that sounds odd at first: “Why talk to the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room?”

Let me explain. 

Many years ago, entertainers used an organ grinder, a portable music box with a crank handle on the side that when turned played organ-like music. The entertainer would roam city streets making music joined by a monkey tied to a long string. The monkey’s job was to collect money from passersby or climb up the sides of buildings above the sidewalk to collect change from those inside offices or apartments.

What Does This Have to Do With College Admissions?

In Churchill’s quote, the monkey is a metaphor for all of the misinformation that people receive (in our case, information about college admission). Crowds that gave money probably were not particularly impressed by the music of the organ grinder; it was the monkey that got their attention. Just like seemingly compelling information gleaned online or from a friend who sounds like they really know what they’re talking about is hard to dismiss. After all, who can resist a cute monkey? 

Anything akin to a monkey is a terrible source of information for something as important as applying to college. 

However, as the irresistibly cute monkey is entertaining the crowd, not far away, maybe out of sight or somewhere around the corner, is the organ grinder. The organ grinder is the one that’s actually in charge and obviously is better qualified to communicate than a monkey. 

It may seem that the organ grinder and monkey are one and the same because a rope connects them. In reality, though, there is a vast difference between the two, and those of you who are thinking about the college admission process should be careful and discerning when it comes to the sources of your information.

Stop Listening to the Monkey!

So, who does the monkey represent in the world of college admission? Social media, news articles, the internet, friends and family, or the rumor mill. 

And who’s the organ grinder? Well, the most obvious answer is the college admission office. There are also counselors at most high schools that can answer questions about college admission clearly and authoritatively. Finally, there are expert independent college counselors like me who are highly trained, visit colleges as often as possible, abide by the highest ethical standards, and are committed to a student-centered approach of giving the best information about the college admission process. 

Therefore, the eighth rule of applying to college is to stop listening to the monkey. Bring your concerns to the organ grinder, who is ready to answer your questions with accuracy and clarity.

If you’re interested in talking to this “organ grinder” to receive accurate and reliable information about the college admission process, please feel free to contact me. I’ve been an Independent Educational Consultant for many years and won’t monkey around with you.