On Tuesday the Washington Post Parenting section had an article titled “Want your child to get into college and have a good life? Here’s how” and it’s a great read. It reminds parents to focus on teaching their kids to be good people – there’s more to life than ACT scores and college entry. In fact, the author discusses listening to your children and guiding them toward their own, unique hopes and dreams, which may not include an elite college. Deeper engagement in the community, a commitment to one club, being a good family member – these things have meaning and are hard to quantify on a college application, even in the essay. There’s a whole life awaiting these kids AFTER college – let’s think about preparing them for that, too. At some point the college admissions process will change, the author writes, but not until we demand that it does – and in the meantime, we have the power, as parents, to change how we view and present the entire thing. Let’s use our power for good.
Both the USA Today and New York Times had articles about college applications and acceptances today but they struck very different tones, both of which speak to how out-of-hand the process the current system of applying to post-secondary education has become.
The article in the USA Today, is by Ryan Hickey, who works writes about higher education, but his day job is working with students on various parts of the applications process and editing the popular college guide, Peterson’s. Hickey puts together a very practical list of tips for students to keep in mind as they apply to school, including being very mindful of what they’re doing and thinking about money required to go to schools, in addition to just prestige of the schools. His goal is clearly to inform students – but mostly parents – about some of the pitfalls found along the path of the applications process. In fact, he starts out by reminding readers that the application time is specifically a moment of note between high school and college and should be given its proper attention.
In contrast, popular author and regular columnist Frank Bruni wrote a rather tongue in cheek piece in today’s New York Times, where he laments that Stamford decided not to accept any of its applicants this year because none are quite good enough for its hallowed halls. It took me two readings to understand he was kidding! I admire Mr. Bruni for having the temerity to write and publish such a piece because the scathing humor underscores the horror of the possibility of its truth.
The anxiety time is rapidly approaching for high school seniors – those who did not apply to schools early action or early decision will receive their thick and thin envelopes very soon. My own son is a junior this year and I can see the gradual ramping-up of stress levels in not only him, but the entire community, which will predictably lead to applications, test prep, AP choices, competition, secrecy and above all, FEAR.
Schools are now scrambling in certain ways to make sure they’re accessible while protecting their precious reputations; they are trying to appear more open to economic and racial diversity while maintaining selectivity. It’s a merry go round of conflict. As a mother and a writing/test prep tutor, I’m not sure how to stop the madness, but I do urge you to read both articles and marvel at the mainstream media for their myriad and juxtaposed gifts, born of the desire to prey on the anxiety of its constituents and maintain readership.
Yes, read the articles, but then go have a glass of wine and laugh.
Today I saw this article about the changes that adolescents go through, courtesy of Gayle Olsen in Tokyo, and it really made me think about kids, writing and their college essays. It indicates that kids need the help of parents even more as they go through adolescence, but in a different way. They need us to be the voice of reason, the guiding factor and the time organizer even when they yell at us while we do our jobs. These kids have so much pressure on them, and they are learning at the speed of light – it’s no wonder that they feel and experience everything so deeply that it makes our heads spin. It’s a wild and wonderful time and in certain ways we, as adults, are lucky that we can only remember bits and pieces of it.
Writing is often therapeutic in nature. People can write their way into discovering their true feelings on a topic. But it can also be scary because of that very fact – what if we find something out about ourselves on the page that we really didn’t want to uncover? That is part of the problem with the college essay we ask the kids to write. They have been taught textual analysis and literary criticism. They have even been taught to write a process and descriptive essay. But it is not often that they get to write about themselves in a raw and meaningful manner. And then there’s the fact that when the kids write about themselves, they don’t want their parents to see it. It can lead to some pretty major upset in the household when all of that comes together.
I like to say that life is a journey, so write it out. I can also help you and your kids write out yours.
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Dr. Weinstein has her masters degree and doctorate in composition/higher education from George Mason University and has taught first-year writing both in the U.S. and overseas
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