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?