Wednesday, October 14, 2009

He Said/ She Said

There we sat listening intently to the Admissions Director from both Stanford and Sarah Lawrence tell us what they look for in a prospective student. They talked SAT and ACT, GPAs and personal essays, interviews and college tours. I listened but I didn't really hear what they were saying. What I wanted to scream was that I was not prepared to let my son go across the country to college. I wanted to shout, Kyle can go anywhere as long as it is less than 1/2 hour away.

They want pointy kids not well rounded ones. They want a well rounded class filled with passionate kids. They want kids that have pushed themselves academically. But, they cautioned, make sure your child is enjoying high school. I wanted to shout, did you know your passions in high school? I knew mine, and he was the cute surfer boy who lived down the street.

I want to scream.

I can feel the tide pulling me deep into an ocean of test prep appointments, campus tours applications, decisions, expectations, and disappointments. I can feel the roller coaster of emotions with each campus visit. I can hear the endless discussions of college essay topics. I can feel myself succumbing to the pressure of college application hell all in the hopes that Kyle can will get into the perfect college for him.

There is so much pressure around all things college. It makes me so mad and sad and very, very confused.

Take away the layers of hopes and dreams of expectation and privilege and perhaps my son will have a chance to be happy at college. It cannot be a prize at the end of a rigorous high school career. It should be a time of intellectual and personal exploration.

And I know if Kyle is happy at college, then I will be OK too.

My husband sat next to me. I will let him tell you what he heard.

From Tom:

I guess this is why it's nice to have two parents, because they hear and process completely different things. They can then pass on, in varying degrees, the bits and pieces of knowledge they learned. First off, let me say that, unlike Terry, I am not dreading the day that the boys head off to college. I view this as one of the great experiences of a lifetime, a real chance to grow and spread your wings, to test yourself and explore all the various possibilities that life has to offer. As a further part of this life experience, some kids (especially in Europe) take a year off before heading to college and work and travel the world soaking up all the experience they can. So, as I went to this introduction to the college process, I was not filled with apprehension that our son would soon leave home.

My desire was to learn some information that might prove helpful to Kyle as he went through this process. Let me digress for a minute here to talk about my philosophy on college. I believe that there are any number of colleges that a child can get into that will help prepare them for life. There is no one specific school that one must go to. So the key is to find a college that feels like the right match for your child. I also believe that if my son gets rejected from a college it won't be because he cannot handle the work load. The admissions officer from Stanford told me that while they rejected about 92% of their applicants last year very few rejections were because they felt the kids could not do the work. The admissions officers tonight confirmed that colleges are in general looking to field a well-rounded student body. If your son or daughter is rejected, it is not based on their lack of ability, but merely because they did not fall into a particular slot that the university was looking to fill.

I also learned that admissions officers don't view the application process as a competition. They don't figuratively throw two applicants in the ring and let their applications fight it out over whose school was harder or who took more AP classes. Instead, they seem to have a two step process. First, they look to see if they believe a student can do the work. If the answer is affirmative, then they look at what interesting qualities or characteristics the student brings which will enrich the university community as a whole. So if they have two equally qualified interesting candidates they will admit both. If neither is interesting then neither is offered a slot. I think many parents in the audience had a hard time accepting this. A lot seemed to think that there must be some strategy that they could employ to help their children. But somehow I don't believe that life is like that. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You pick yourself up and move on. This a lesson that I fear too many sons and daughters are not learning as too many parents (particularly helicopter moms) seem to rush to their child's rescue trying to make it all come out right. In the end, the child only loses as they have no idea how to pick themselves up and dust themselves of and push on.

At this point I must confess that what I really learned pertained to getting into (or not) Stanford which is where Kyle would like to go to school (and also happens to be my alma mater). If it is the right school for him, then I hope he gets in. But if not, I am sure that he will find a wonderful school that is the right fit. As for what I learned, it was all very preliminary stuff and I won't bore you with details which aren't important. What is important is Kyle starting down a new path, one that I can see him preparing for each day as he grows older and asserts his independence. I want to protect him against the bumps and bruises along the way, yet at the same time I know that he needs to suffer those bumps and bruises because in the end he will be stronger and better for having survived the process.

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