Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sadder But Wiser College Admissions Blogger Tells All

Today, Mom's College Cram Course marks its first anniversary. I started the blog to learn as much as possible about the college admissions process; deadlines and an audience have a wonderful way of keeping me disciplined.

Some of the topics I kept coming back to included selecting which colleges to apply to; funding the education; those personal essays; the purgatory of wait lists; and how teens should spend summers (no consensus, just keep busy).

There's no comparison to how I went about applying to college. Today it's big business -- with advisers, prep courses, essay editors, financial planners. Right or wrong, it's college admissions, American style.

And this process is not going to get better anytime soon. As a parent and a rational being, I find much that is appalling about the admissions process. That includes the ever-declining acceptance rate at some of the most selective colleges. Will the ultimate level of status be to accept none of the applicants? We seem to be headed in that direction.

It bothers me that so many kids are, right now, devastated they did not get into their first choice -- kids who were valedictorians, with perfect SAT scores, who had meaningful extracurricular activities. They played by the rules, worked hard, got their applications in on time and were among the 27,000 who did not get into Brown, or the 32,000 who got bad news from Stanford. Sure, it's an important life lesson in dealing with disappointment and moving on, but should life be so difficult for an 18-year-old?

And I worry about the debt being taken on by kids -- a decision that can negatively affect their whole lives since that is almost how long some may be paying down college loans.

But I also see more clearly that while there is little I can do as a parent to change the present system, I can begin, right now, to remind myself, and our teen, that this crazy process is not a validation of self-worth. Its outcome will only be a small part of the shaping of the adult.

Most importantly, I understand that our kids aren't powerless pawns, aren't victims of this process. They still make the final pick. It's still in their power to get the most they can out of college.

And parents, our job remains the one we've had from the start. Provide guidance, moral support, a few suggestions here and there, unconditional love -- then give them room to begin growing up. They'll manage just fine.

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