Sometimes when I write about a topic, I am very careful how I present it. I try to be mindful of all the angles of an issue, and I give some thought to what an opposing view might be so I can address it either mentally or in the column.
For this one, however, stream-of-consciousness might be a better format. I’d like to ask forgiveness in advance for my lack of appropriateness or diplomacy as I discuss this, the most pressing of questions. Where will my son go to college?!!
I’m about two years early to have started this obsession, but with so many people around us in the midst of these decisions now, I caught the fever a bit early. Friends who’ve taken college tours, looked into financial aid and decided on a small, out-of-state private school have answers I want. And I pepper them with questions in a slightly crazed way.
Friend: My daughter is going to Stanford next year.
Me: WHAT? How did that happen? Did she cure cancer? Did you add a wing to the school? Do you have something dark on an admissions officer?
Of course I then feel bad that I don’t give credit to a student who obviously worked her butt off for this achievement, but therein lies the crux of my issue. Getting into a chosen college seems more like winning the lottery these days than being a worthy student. I mean, do you know how many “worthy” students are turned down from their top-choice schools? We’ve had a parade of fantastic high school interns at The Enterprise in the 11 years I’ve worked here, and I am regularly stunned that they aren’t able to write their own tickets to wherever they want to go. Seriously, why isn’t Oxford begging them to come to England?
This issue is complicated for me by my belief that going to a “good” school is the only ticket you need for success. (Remember how you’re going to forgive me for saying things without couching it in less-obnoxious language?)
To wit: I was a decent student in high school … could have been better, but I didn’t need to be because I went to the school of my dreams (UCLA) with a grade-point average in the 3′s. I had done exactly no community service, played on zero varsity sports teams, mastered no musical instruments, performed in not a single play and held no positions in student government. But UCLA let me go there any way, and I flourished. I credit my association with and graduation from this institution with most of the successes of my adult life.
Let me be clear, though. I didn’t get all A’s at UCLA, either, and I didn’t play on a team or hold a student office. I was just an average student at a very good school. Which is what and where I want my sons to be.
I’m sure it sounds crazy to say I hope my kids are average, but I really don’t want them to stress and obsess about being superstar students. What it takes to be the kind of student who is choosing between acceptances to Harvard, Princeton or Stanford is not conducive to the childhood I wish for them.
However, at serious odds with this is my urge for them to go to a “good” school. If I were being more diplomatic, I would, of course, acknowledge that there is no one perfect school, and each student can find the right place, etc. But I’m being honest: I want them to have the same opportunities I had without having to do what it would now take to get into UCLA (which received a record-breaking 100,000 applications for the upcoming school year).
Seriously, what is a parent to do?
At this point, toward the end of our son’s sophomore year, we try to inform him about what a college he is interested in might look for in an applicant. We don’t push him to take more AP classes or run for student government, but we do let him know that if he has his sights set on say, UC Berkeley, there are certain things he might do to be more attractive to them.
And maybe, without ruining his childhood, he will achieve the magic combination of activities, classes, grades and test scores and win the college lottery to the school of his choice — where he can be average.
— Tanya Perez is an associate editor at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other week on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya