The Parent Imperfect is trying his best to remain serious about the college admissions process. It isn’t easy. A small percentage of high school seniors around the country are already clear where they will continue their education next year. The vast majority of current seniors either aren’t planning to be in college next year, or they are still waiting for answers to applications they submitted during the “regular admissions” round. Dear Connie is among that last group. To her credit, she seems aware of the privilege behind her expectation that formal education will continue beyond high school.
She has heard from a number of schools, including the one to which she applied “Early Decision,” the three to which she applied “Early Action” and two schools to which she applied through the regular process. There are more to come. She has had very good results so far, though she does not yet have a decision from any of the schools she most wants to attend. The process has dragged out for so long that I sense that she is more interested in getting through this and finishing her senior year, than in any particular outcome.
At this perfect moment in a long process, the FBI has apparently broken up an operation through which rich and famous parents were paying to get their children into prestigious schools. I can’t say that the news surprised me. I can imagine, however, that some number of anxious parents live in fear of the fall of the other shoe. It’s hard to imagine that Mr. Singer is the first and only college admissions counselor to notice this type of “opportunity.” Surprise or not, it has been bizarre to be inundated with news of this criminal conspiracy as we sit here waiting somewhat anxiously for the answers of the sorting hat.
Done the way Connie did it, the process requires already busy people to do a lot of extra work and make many decisions that seem important on really tight timelines. People say it is like taking an extra Advanced Placement class, and I don’t doubt it. Because regular class work never stops or even slows at her school, this has been a time of even more midnight oil and agitated evenings than usual for us all. To be confronted now by the rot at the core of the system for which the midnight oil has burned creates yet another challenge.
Luckily, Connie did not apply to any of the schools mentioned so far in connection to this scandal (and it was pure luck), but that doesn’t mean that the process has been particularly “clean.” One of the first things I read about the scandal was an article by Libby Nelson of Vox entitled, “College admissions fraud: The real scandal is what’s legal.” This fine article says, “Please don’t think that corruption in college admissions has been taken care of because these people got caught.” Fine, but I was doing my very best to get through this process with my plausible deniability intact. Pas de chance.
The admissions process is the way it is because it works for many people…wealthy families and powerful academic institutions, for example. But we who grease the wheels with our anxiety also bear some responsibility. In our family, we knew well how stressful the college application process could be and we committed ourselves to not get caught up in it. There are ways to minimize the stress and we told ourselves that we would find those ways. Despite those commitments, we all made choices that contributed to our misery.
It is very difficult to decide to attend a high school like Connie’s and not get caught up in the elitist assumptions that are the biggest stressors of the application process. All families considering college should read some of the research showing that it matters less than you think where people attend college as undergraduates. Increasing application rates at state universities and colleges suggest that some people are getting the message. I don’t think Connie bothered to read that research, but given the environment in which she is working, I’d say she has done a good job of keeping things in some kind of perspective.
I think the process will work out fine for Connie. How it will work out for her parents is a topic for another post. She has no “legacy” claim at any school and we didn’t pay any of the scammers to get her admitted to some prestigious place, but she will have good options and will work hard to take advantage of them. She is thirsty to connect to a wider world, and I’m sure she’ll find a way to do that. Most likely, some schools will decline her application for reasons that she and we will never know. In the end, rejection by such institutions may not be the worst thing.
I’ll be back when it comes time to actually decide what happens next year. For now, you can put your hand down.