Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Salon: The College Process

I have a senior and a junior in high school. This means that we are deep in both the beginning and the end of the college application process. We've suffered through PSATs, SATs, PLANs, and ACTs (with another bout of the latter to come in 2 months for the younger of the two). We nagged the heck out of the oldest to figure out where he wanted to apply. Then we nagged him more to finish up his applications. We even hired someone else to nag him. We sat him down and had a come to Jesus meeting after he told us one day that he was done with college things for the rest of the week well before he had hit submit on his applications. We angsted over his grades. We breathed a sigh of relief over his test scores. We visited schools, including ones that will send him many long hours away from us. We practically broke out the champagne when an envelope arrived telling him (and us), right on the outside of it, that he had been accepted. We are still anxiously waiting to hear from the other schools and to listen to him as he talks through his decision. And having done all of this, lucky us,we are starting all over again. We are in the nagging to figure out which schools the child has an interest in exploring further stage with his sister. I think she may be waiting to see where he goes so she can strike that off her list definitively but I'm just guessing. Can't wait to move through all of the above stages again. Not!

It's a completely and totally high stakes process. Kids are pressured to find the "right" school. They feel like they are expected to know what they want to be when they grow up, long before they are actually grown up. They worry about making a mistake and choosing wrongly. It's not easy or comforting to be a kid going through the process these days. In contrast, parents know that no choice is permanent. They know that the odds of a kid actually knowing what they want to do with their lives (and then sticking with it for the duration of their work life) are pretty low. They don't worry about that stuff as much. Instead, parents are stressed about paying for whichever school takes their child's fancy. They wonder how their child is going to do without them around to help and care and nag. They wonder how often their child will remember to do laundry and change sheets and if the alarm clock will ever be enough to get the kid out of bed. Or maybe these last ones are only my worries. Parents worry about whether or not their kid will get into the college of their choice, or get into college at all. They worry about hurt feelings when/if a "No" comes winging its way through the mail or across the internet because those "No" letters come just as surely as the "Yes" letters. It's not easy or comforting being a parent with a child going through this process these days either.

But you are not alone in all of this. Sure, there are the actual kids and parents you know who are also going through it at the same time but we all know that comparisons between real situations never makes you feel any better (unless your kid happens to be the valedictorian or something). And so I turn to books. Some of them make you a little bit panicky, some of them make you feel like you and your child have a reasonably decent grasp on this crazy situation--or at least as much of one as you can have if you aren't financially blessed enough to build a building or endow a chair in order to get your kid into the school of his or her choice, and some of them make you laugh. At least I'm fairly certain there are some of the latter kind out there. I may be a little too immersed in the process right now to really appreciate over the top, ridiculous college application humor.

Over the years I have read and enjoyed a lot of fiction set on college campuses. There are some amazing writers out there who skewer academia beautifully. But I was less familiar with books on the process of getting to the campus in the first place. I like to read books about places I have been and places I am going to be traveling to so why wouldn't I want to read about the place my children and I are in in life right now? One reason not to is, of course, the panic factor. And I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that the books I've read so far have increased my anxiety a little (or a lot) but they've been good and interesting reads, engaging and even sometimes funny. They may not make the actual process here any easier but they do assure me I'm not alone, and it could be worse, and oh my gosh, we didn't do that and maybe we should!

Here's the reading list I have so far but please feel free to add more to my stack if you know of one that I'll be able to read without a brown paper bag sitting beside me to help with the hyperventilating:

Getting In by James Finney Boylan
Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy by Lacey Crawford
Acceptance by Susan Coll
The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg
The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by Debbie Stier
Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College by Andrew Ferguson
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz)

I'll probably have all of the above read by the time the 7th grader forces me back through the process again several years from now. And maybe by then I will feel like an expert and worry about all of it less. Maybe pigs will fly too, right?

In other reading news, my reading this past week took me to France where a woman who cleans the cathedral of Chartres is confronted by an unpleasant older woman in town and by the past she thought she'd long since put behind her. I went to Lowell, Massachusetts where a young mill girl advocates for her rights and those of her fellow mill workers despite her growing feelings for the mill owner's son. I traveled all over with a man who is in search of the truth of who his deceased father was really and thinks he can only find it in his father's five ex-wives. And as the above suggests, I went on college visits in the northeast riding around in a Winnebago with a kooky and dysfunctional extended family and I'm just off to Iowa City with the ex-wife of a disgraced former politician as she enters an MFA program. Where have your reading travels taken you this past week?


  1. We have made too much of all of this college silliness, I think. As we seem to do with most things.

  2. Wow. You have been everywhere this past week. I can't imagine doing all that reading and watching the college ap process too. Strong woman!

  3. I don't envy you the college admission gauntlet - it sounds daunting on many levels. Of the books on your list, I have only read Admission.

  4. Both of my kids are in college now, and extremely happy with their choices. When my oldest child was in the process, we read a book I highly recommend and reviewed, by someone who (at that time) worked at the college where I work:

  5. Good on you for being the type of parent who recognizes that college is not the be-all-end-all so many people make it out to be! I too went into college thinking I *had* to know what I wanted to do, and that was the message that seemed to get hammered home the most (I started off as a journalism major in a famously pre-professional program). It was an agonizing decision at the time to swap majors, but looking back now (only about a year and a half out of college, obviously I am oh so wise now), it's hard to understand why it was so difficult! I've been working since graduation, trying to figure out what comes next (more school? different job?), and in some ways it's really freeing to realize that there are so many options out there. You know, terrifying, too. But amazing!

    I wish all the best to your oldest, luck and perseverance to your junior, and good humor to your youngest as he/she deals with all the craziness!


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts