Many College Applications Due Tomorrow: Has the Process Been Frustrating for You and Yours?

5 years ago

I hate the college application process. It reminds me of that old song by Alanis Morrissette, “It’s like meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife.”

Isn’t it ironic?

You hear about a school. If you’re lucky and can afford it, you visit the school. It seduces you with its ivy covered campus, shinny happy students, and doting professors. Sure it’ll costs somewhere upwards of a quarter of a million dollars to send him, but you’ll figure it out. It would be the perfect place to send your beloved, and of course brilliant, child. No doubt the school would be lucky to have him. Sadly, 40,000 (or 50,000 or even 75,000) other parents couldn’t agree more.

And if I hate this process, imagine how my 17-year-old son feels. He came to my room the other night around 11:30 and nearly burst into tears. He’d been studying for an AP Physics test and now needed me to review yet another draft of an essay he’d written for one of the colleges to which he is applying. The deadline is looming and even though he has been working on said essay for the past few weeks, he “just can’t get it right.”

I wanted to say, “Don’t worry. It’s good enough.” But is it?

The numbers are against our kids these days. The New York Times education segment has a regular feature on college admissions called, ironically, The Choice -- as if. A recent article noted that, despite the down-turn in the economy, applications to selective colleges are up, again. The pressure to be the “perfect” candidate seems higher than ever.

We know the result. College bound high school students spend all of their time working. Working to get better grades, working to fill their “resumes” with meaningful extra-curricular activities, working to pay for the school of their dreams. Is it little wonder they are stressed out?

We hear story after story of children who finally get into the college of their choice and then drop out or take time off because they just needed a break. On college campuses, mental health programs are overextended and suicide clusters for high school students are cropping up across our land.

With all this intensity, is it any wonder our students cut corners by cheating and lying? The recent SAT scandal in New York is just one example of the many ways in which the pressure we put children under is compromising their humanity.

I want to wash my hands of it all. Tell my son it doesn’t matter, that it’s just college for goodness’ sakes. But I can’t. It’s in my bones and connective tissue as his mother to flutter in the background and place my hard beak against his now manly back to nudge him on.

Somehow all of the years of changing his diaper, wiping his nose, teaching him to tie his own shoes, insisting on organic, helping with the homework, cheering on the sidelines, driving to piano practice, sending him to camp, handing over the car keys, waiting up for him to come home, have been whittled down to this last push out of the nest. (Never mind the reoccurring nightmare I have of a little bird with my son’s face falling from the tree, wandering the roads and byways, asking, “Are you my mother?” In my dream, I resemble the frightening tractor far more than the nurturing bird. Sigh...)

Here is what I know: My son will get in to college. Here is also what I know: Once in college, my son will do what he has always done -- excel. The real irony is that in my efforts to “help” him prepare for the next adventure, I may have given him every reason to want to go as far away as possible. Next year, when he is gone and I am missing him, as I undoubtedly will, I wonder if I will look back and ask myself, “Was it worth it?”

The only one who will truly be able to answer that question will be him.

BlogHers have given guidance and support over this past year. Here are a few whose writings have kept me sane:

I love the light-hearted touch of BlogHer Women Just Like Me. She says, "My goal, as a mother of a high school senior is simple. Get her to a good university so she can learn, have some fun, find herself and graduate with a degree that will remove her from the family payroll!"

I wished I’d had the good advice of BlogHer Gael McCarte on writing college admissions essays to give to my son. The good news is I have two more children. Maybe with the third, I’ll finally get it right.

Finally, one of my favorite BlogHers, Gina Carrol has written a book called 24 Things You Can Do With Social Media To Get Into To College. She wisely cautions, “The reality is once students reach seventeen years of age, they really should start to view their social media through the eyes of an adult and recognize that what shows up there may have negative consequences.”


Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, women and men, is not to learn but to unlearn." I am working on unlearning each and every day. How about you? Lisen

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