Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rushing Universities

600 students and parents plus 85 college admissions directors filled my son's high school last night. It was a mock admission's evening. Let me explain. Parents and kids were all sent a packet of information last week. Included in our reading was a profile of a fictitious small liberal arts college and three, also fictitious, applications to said college.

Our mission was to become "admission directors" ourselves and discuss the merits of each student to decide who we should select into our highly selective school.

I was looking forward to this event and found the whole process interesting. But this morning, in the bright light of day I have come to some startling conclusions.

But, before I get to that, let me set the scene. After we broke into small groups to discuss the candidates as they are called, the fictitious leaders in our groups, who are actually real 'admissions directors' set up tables in the school's gym for a college fair. Kids and their parents pick up nicely printed information about the different schools and try and get a little face time with the admission directors. This reminded me of something. I just couldn't quite figure out what.

When it hit me, it hit me hard.

First, let me come clean. When I attended college, I did the first thing that really disappointed my father--I joined a sorority. He hated anything that was inclusive and was disappointed that I had let my idealistic standards down. I was commuting from home and needed to make this huge school feel smaller so I joined Delta Gamma. Anchors Away!

I didn't fully understand what my father was getting so annoyed about until I was on the other side of rush. I spent a week judging other young women to see if the would "fit" into our house--DGHOOD. It was one of the most disturbing experiences of my young life.

After chatting with someone for a very limited time you had to decide whether you wanted this person as a "sister." Being nice was definitely not good enough. During our nightly meetings we had three paddle, one that had the letters NGB written on it. You could vote Ya or Na or NGB. NGB meant Nice Girl But.....

I was disgusted. It was the last Rush I attended until last night.

From a few pieces of paper I was supposed to evaluate an entire human being in the pretense that I am are trying to see if this candidate would fit into my school and be able to handle our academic rigor.


It felt just like Rush. You see, you want to have the best house, with the best girls, the cutest, most fun, and most connected. You want to attract the best frat boys so beautiful girls are important. You want those girls who also have great personalities because, hey, you have to live with them. And if daddy is rich, perhaps he'll donate some money and turn the crappy living room into a spanking new parlor.

So, reading between the lines, universities and colleges have become big business. They want their student body to be filled with kids with great numbers, high GPA's and even higher test scores. This makes the school look sexy and more desirable--makes them look IVY LEAGUE. They also want a certain diversity, because, hey, that looks good and they want kids that will win awards because they can use this in their marketing materials. RUSH all over again. And if daddy can give money, added plus. Big, fat plus!

When we all entered the gym for the college fair, I began my slow parade around to the different tables. I caught myself.

I walked to the one empty side of the gymnasium and sat my large derriere down on the wooden floor. I couldn't do it! First, this was Kyle's thing, not mine. Plus I just didn't want to play the game.

Kyle doesn't think he has the option not to play the game. I don't think most kids or their parents realize that they can opt out. It is a contest, like Rush, who can get into the best house, oops, I mean college.

I got into a great house--DG was known and is still known as a "good house." I chose the house, just like it was choosing Yale or Brown. I might have been happier at Chico State but I would have thought why would I choose Chico State if Brown wants me.

The answer is simple. It might have fit me better. But like so many of our "rising" seniors, I was a snob.

If, as a potential sorority or fraternity member or as a "candidate" for college we take the control, then we have a system that works so much better. But I guess that is not in our nature. Somehow we want the best, defined by what is the most desirable, the hardest to get into, the one with the best looking girls!

I didn't sit alone against the back wall last night, I sat next to a new friend, a painter, an artist. We talked for the time it took our son's to wander around the gym. I enjoyed her. I had fun. Instantly, I was out of this frenzied room and into an interesting conversation.

We should make the choices of ours lives--the choices we really have some control over. Who we want to be friends with, what we want to do with our time here on earth are things we can assert a certain amount of control over. We know, or perhaps sometimes we forget, so much of what happens in life is out of our control. I think in this frenzied, made-up, well marketed world of colleges we forget that.

Last night was a great reminder.


  1. I'm sure your son is a Nice Boy But ... Yes, it does sound a lot like rush! Were there even color-coordinated napkins, doilies, and refreshments, along with silver bells to announce the evening's end?

  2. Yay! I'm standing up clapping for you! You made some excellent points and I didn't have the foresight to see what you did last night but I do have a very similar memory. In fact the picture of the college fair bought me right back to it even before I read your post.
    For son #1 my husband and I had his college picked out for him as soon as he was born. He was going to go to the same engineering college that my husband and his father went to. As he got older and started getting test scores back we saw that he had the same mathmatical brain that runs in the family genes. Engineering college it was going to be without a doubt. He was told this his whole little life. Then the big night came.... College Fair night. My husband and I and son #1 went off to the high school gym to "look" at all the colleges but to especially spend a lot of time at the Engineering College table. We walked down aisle by aisle. Son #1 picking up pamplets and the free pens from a couple of places and all of a sudden.. there was the Engineering College table. My husband and I were a few paces behind son #1 and then we stopped and froze. Son #1 didn't even stop. He kept on walking. He had no desire or want to go to that school. The school that was picked out for him the day he was born. He kept on walking... and hubby and I let him. It was a hard moment but we realized - it was his choice and his life. Not ours.

  3. I just loved this post Terry. It made such great points about doing what is right for us and not doing what looks best to others. Not doing what is EXPECTED, but what we want. Not always easy, that's for sure. A year ago I was talking to our pediatrician about the colleges his son was choosing between. He had gotten into Harvard, Williams, Tufts, UVM and some others... The doc said, "But how can he NOT go to Harvard having gotten in there? How can he look harvard in the face and say, no thanks?" I said, "But what if he's the kind of kid who doesn't deal well with Pressure and such brutal competitiveness? What if a small school in the middle of nowhere would suit him better?" Doc shook his head... his son is just finishing his freshman year at Harvard. Although he wasn't sure it was the right school, he just couldn't say no. Because OTHERS would have questioned him. Kind of sad.

    And rush? Ugh. I rushed sophomore year already having made my core group of friends and just wanting to be a part of their "sisterhood". I walked through and felt the judgements crawling all over me and I quit before even getting rejected or selected. It was awful. I don't wish that on my kids... that's for sure!

    Again, loved the post!

  4. Out of control. That's what all this college bs has gotten to be. Everyone's stressed, parents, kids, teachers. When will it stop? Kyle will get a great education wherever he goes because of what he puts into it. He will do just fine.

    Your description of the sorority was exactly why my own daughter bailed before rush. Like you, it literally made her ill.

    Great post from a great mom. Good job, Terry

  5. Terry, I love the comparison here though I never thought of it that way. Now I guess I can see how it's all run on money and prestige and attracting large donors with more accomplishments of the graduates, etc.

    As far as rush, when I got to the Univ. of Arizona in 1978 the frat system was BIG! It was never tempting to me. Maybe it was because I'd spent so much of high school a hippie or maybe because I felt I already had plenty of sisters! But I didn't really want to go off to college and then be under someone else's control. Part of it was also insecurity: in a system run so much based on physical appearance, I was sure I'd never fit in.

  6. I love the comparison to a Greek rush. I never thought about it before but that's what it's like. I pledged Sigma Sigma Sigma in college. But once I got into it, I didn't like it either. Your post reminds me of the joke:
    Are you going to join a sorority?
    No thanks, I already have a personality.

    My son is analyzing all of his choice school very systematically using a spreadsheet. I had to take a step back also because I was letting my pre-conceived notion of each school get in the way.

  7. Great, great post! We are knee deep in the college thing too, with doing paperwork for two right now, and it is such a game to be played.

    I am now thankful, looking back, that I could only afford the dorm that my grants paid for. My two older sisters were Pi Phis and they had a much different college experience than I did. (not necessarily better...)

    There IS such pressure from what we think others will think of us when we answer the question, "So, where is your son going to school?"....if we could all just call a truce, that'd be great. :)

    I love that once I turned 40 I quit worrying about what others thought of me. I am secure in myself, my family, my marriage. I would feel really content to sit in the corner of the gym floor with you, talking about anything but college admissions. Wish I'd been there to wax the floor with my butt too. :)

    Great post, as always.


  8. Here's a fun one. The Cal Tech application has a box, about 4" square, that says: put something here.

    What the hell is that about?

    We obviously put the wrong thing there, because he was wait-listed at Cal Tech too.

    Here's the important thing: Unless you are going into business, NO ONE will ever ask you where you went to college. Especially if you are eventually headed to grad school, the undergraduate degree is largely (completely?) irrelevant.


  9. First of all, I think that we need to look at where we (the parents) went to school.....of course, we would all love our kids to go to Harvard, but think of the quote...."the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"!

    Second of all, think of how many of your own "true" friends have gone to "an ivy league school" 70-90%? Not!

    Third, if you have a boy in high school with good grades this is great...it's much easier to get them into a fine college because the college admissions try to even out the male/female ratio....girls get better grades than boys do usually. Unfortunately it's harder for the girls to get into the ivy leagues. Don't compare your boys' grades to girls grades...

    Fourth...with state colleges + housing costing somewhere around $33,000.... for most families it "IS" a family decision....not just one that the student likes. I believe it has to be good for the whole family....unless $$$ isn't a concern.

    That being said, I am not looking forward to this weekend when we tell our son he can "choose" between two of the final colleges that we see as a good fit for him.

  10. It's awesome that you realized this before it was too late. How many parents do you know that brag about what college their kid is going to get into while the child is still in preschool for Pete's sakes. And then they ride that said child until he doesn't have a choice but to go to the college their parent wants them to. Guess who is back at home after one semester? My oldest went away to college for three semesters and then came home. She's now headed to a prestigious UC school after eating crow and going to Community College. I never felt less proud because she was going to a CC. In fact, I was quite proud that she realized that the path she'd been on wasn't for her and she wanted to come home. There's too much pressure for our children, and they are even at eighteen, to do the "right" thing.