It is Labor Day weekend and instead of drinking soda in the backyard and watching children play in the pool, I am drinking coffee in coffee houses watching children stress out. (Maybe I should rethink the coffee houses). Many of my colleagues and I make extra money this time of year by helping high school seniors and college transfers navigate the often confusing waters of college admissions. Indeed there are many “experts,” showing up advising everything from how to apply to how to write each of the six essay options for the Common Applications.
And no, it isn’t way too early. I start my season on August 1st. We are a month in. And yes, you are right, most applications are due anywhere form the 1st of November to the 31st of January. Happy Holidays.
When I posted on Facebook how stressed these kids are, seven parents posted that THEY were the ones stressed about money and whether or not their child got into a good school. And every single one of them commented about how it will be a precursor for life.
Each day of the three-day weekend, I have three to four clients. Each session is two hours in length. And half the time I spend calming down a student who is freaking out because he doesn’t know what is going on and he is not sure he even wants to go to college, much less what his major will be. And this, evidently, is the predictor of how he will live his life.
This last part is the part that gets me. When I was in college the first two years of school were designed to help the student figure out their passion. The General Education requirements were then, as they are now, designed to allow for a well-rounded, well-educated graduate, and secondarily allow for the exploration of interests Evidently, that freedom is no longer afforded to the freshman. Except it is. By the college. I teach college. I know this, yet I am constantly being told by parents that they have heard that Johnny and Susie need to declare a major as soon as possible to have a passing chance in their chosen department.
Parents want them to do this so that they are not five- and six- year students. Who can afford it? There are even parent forums about the tragedy of their freshmen not having chosen a major.
Excuse me? Susie and Johnny are seventeen, sometimes sixteen. They are the proverbial deers caught in the headlights. They have no idea what their dream career is going to be. Heck they have no idea what they are going to wear to the dance on Friday night. But they know they should come up with something impressive to please their parents and their parents friends, so they try. One told me she was going to be a neurosurgeon.
This is the same little girl who I once caught throwing up because she saw blood come out rushing out of her brother’s knee. I don’t think so.
One student began her essay, “I live in a place where all the kids are expected to be standouts. I could be one too, except, the things I do I do because I want to, not because I am good at them. What I do find amazing is watching others kills themselves to be someone that they are not. And then it hits me, I am going to have to do that too if I want to get away from here.”
Another tells me, “My mom is kind of a Tiger mom. If I don’t get into a top tier school, even if it isn’t the best fit for me, then I have somehow let the family down.” She is almost hyperventilating as she tells me this, then finishes with: “But you can’t tell her I told you that. I will be sure to be happy,” And smiles at me, as if this alone could make her happy.
One client trembled visibly as her parents fought about college outside of the coffee house where we met. She tried to apologize to me for them, but she was too close to tears to be able to say anything. When I told her that she was my client and not her parents and handed her a tissue, she relaxed a little and we began to talk about her dreams and where she wanted to be in a few years. What she wanted did not match either parent’s vision for her. They were still fighting two hours later. She began trembling again as she walked out to meet them.
One family wanted me to meet with their twins who are in their freshman year of high school this year so I could keep them on track when the time came four years from now. I said no, even though that is a money cow waiting to happen.
In many of the above scenarios, it is easy to blame the parents for stressing out their kid. But when I talk to the parents, they are just as stressed, and the last thing they want to do is upset their kid. In the world of intellectual potential, and in Silicon Valley, where you cannot throw a peach pit without hitting someone with a PhD, the kids of the formerly brilliant are feeling the pressure.
I think it is the reduction of money for education. We don’t have the schools, the teachers or the economy to support anything but this kind of system. We are finding out in study after study that having a college degree is the same as what having a high school degree used to be. We are also finding out that people are changing careers with the changing tide, unlike our predecessors who stayed in a job for forty years and liked it, dammit.
It appears that the problem is the economy. Parents worry for their children in this time, and children worry their parents will be let down if they don’t go farther and brighter than their parents ever did.
For me, the educator, it is about education and knowledge and being the best developed person you can be. Maybe I am outdated and obsolete.
photo credit: English 106
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