Category Archives: Higher Ed

College admissions: Raise your hand if you’re surprised…

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.

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Back to School 2016: The Road Trip

keep calm and get backNo reason to keep denying it; Summer’s all but over and the back-to-school season is upon us. For the Parent Imperfect, this week is all about that transition and the mixed emotions that go with it. It all starts a little earlier once they finish high school. On Monday, Vince and I loaded his stuff into the car and headed to the Finger Lakes region for Year Two. It was to have been an end-of-the-summer road trip for the entire family, but Ms. Connie wasn’t having it. I drew the traveling straw.

Mountain shotSince it takes longer to get to Ithaca than it takes to get to San Francisco, Vince had lots of time for a pensive transition back to college life. The ride through western Mass and upstate New York was gorgeous, reminding me of how little time I spend in Vermont these days. After living intensely with a group of IC people for all of freshman year, he didn’t see any of them over the summer. He has a new roommate this year and the young woman with whom he spent a lot of the spring semester transferred to Syracuse. There was a lot on that mind surrounded by the headphones, and the Parent Imperfect was much more chauffeur than confidant. Vince needed the 6+ hours to get back into an Ithaca frame of mind.

He was actually scheduled to go back to school two weeks early to train with the rugby team, but he decided that his knee couldn’t take another year of that sport. I think  he was also quite enjoying himself in Boston, and didn’t look forward to spending the last two weeks of summer grunting and hurting in Ithaca. Summer was to have been a time of rehab for his MCL injury (not a tear), but, instead, he spent the summer lugging around other people’s furniture, which was anything but rehab for the knee. He’ll have moments of regret about that decision in the coming weeks, as rugby was a big part of becoming part of the college community last year.

I want my future backWe remain, as always, on a “need to know” basis with Vince, but from what we could tell the first year at college seemed to be a year of growth for him. He points to last January, when he worked for a month at the moving company with men in their 40s and 50s who make an uninsured living for their families (sort of) by moving heavy things from place to place. Many of them walk like his father walks, even though they are twenty years my junior. No other students, just Vince and perfectly intelligent guys of various races who’ve ended up on the wrong side of the rigged economy. I’m not sure what he learned from that, but something clicked.

I’m sure he was still being a full-on college boy when he went back to school, but he did well enough in his classes to get into Ithaca’s much-respected communications school for Year Two. They had passed on him when he applied as a first-year student.

Ithaca viewHe was visibly excited to get back to Ithaca, although he has also become aware that going to school there is costing money that other good schools wouldn’t necessarily cost. From the beginning, he had a sense of the privilege in that, but he didn’t always understand the cost of it in the same way.

He will not stay up at night worrying about this, but he knows it in a way that he didn’t, even last year. He says that he is exploring transferring in January. We’ll see. I feel the pain about the money, but, if he has found a passion at Ithaca it would be a shame to let it go for the unknown at another place.

It was great to have him here over the summer, but he now lives on South Street as a matter of convenience (for him). In essence, he treated the place like a flop-house over the summer. Who would turn down a flop house with food in the refrigerator? I remember the days when life was so much more fun in the 1-4AM period, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to live with someone who is living that dream. Then, when one of the parents (or the sister) was reaching a limit, he would be home for dinner for a couple of nights, make the time to go visit his grandparents, or spend an evening on the couch talking about the Republican convention or the problems with Bernie’s campaign.

After too many hours in the car, we rolled up to the beautiful dormitory  where he’ll spend the next few months. The move did not have that high energy of excitement and nervous anticipation that we all felt a year ago. This was more lugging his stuff up the back stairs into a room that his definitely a step up from the freshman digs. He was happy to have the help moving in, but then it was time to go. His roommate and friends were nowhere to be seen, forewarned via social media of my arrival. I barely had time to deliver my predictable departure speech, which he probably could have delivered, himself. His phone was buzzing with things to be done as soon as he could get rid of the rest of the family unit.

Much more quickly than I came, I was gone. And now, on South Street we are three…

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