College Admission Becomes Life Admission?


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


Ruby W.
Ruby W6 years ago

What a great article! I fully expect to be there in the fullness of time, trying to get my kids to apply to fancier schools and do more to stand out from the crowd than their peers.

Mary W.
Mary Williamson6 years ago

Thank you. I worry about parents sending their kids out unprepared for life. These children get lots of tutoring in academics, help filling applications, coaching for admissions tests, guidance in financial aid. Who teaches them to do their own laundry, sew on missing buttons, cook a basic nutrious meal, balance a check book (even if it is all handled by plastic online)? We are so worried about the little things like making decisions too early that we as parents often forget the important things like how to live in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Alison V.
Alison Venugoban6 years ago

I never finished high school. I was expected to leave the farm where I'd grown up and find a job. And, as a woman, stay there until I married, when I was expected to leave work and have children and keep house. This was back in the 1960's, and things were different then.

Well, I got a job, got married, kept working, had a child, worked while my husband went through university, and then my daughter went to university. Now, finally, I'm able to take advantage of university myself as a VERY mature-age student of 50. And I'm loving it! Thank heaven for changing times!

Alison V

Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

I stressed myself crazy about college before and during, feeling so pressured by everyone, even putting myself through anxiety induced panic attacks...but only now do I know that college is not as big of a deal that everyone is making it out to be these days. If only I had known then what I know now.

Suzanne H.
Suzanne H6 years ago

I believe in compassionate capitalism...good health, education, housing, social security for all....

Faith Purdy
Faith Purdy6 years ago

i'm only a junior in high school and i've already been pressure, by my school, into figure out a direction for college!

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

College in the US is now a bunch of B$.. the degree means nothing, its all about money; most kids are not college material anyway.

Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli6 years ago

My daughter is a senior in high school this year..and she is just starting to apply to colleges and for scholarships....we'll end up applying for grants and loans too I am sure before she goes..but just the cost of the applying for the schools is a hardship....I mean 40, 60, even over 100 dollars just to apply to a college is crazy.

Michele T.
Michele T.6 years ago

There is this pressure being felt by the parents and the children as this article points out. Parents want their children to have a good career, and the college students are still unsure about what they want to do, or if they do know, it may not be enough for their parents. I'm following my own instincts, even though my parents have been against it since my high school years to the point that they will not help me (although my family cannot afford to help me out financially, it hurts not to have support for my decision). The only reasons I keep hearing from my parents is that I will not make enough as an Archaeologist, and I will not be able to support them in their old age. (But I will end up making twice what they are making now, so how is this logical?) I have a friend who is also doing well without her parents' support. She is one of the smartest people from my high school. Her career? A tattoo artist. She loves it, and that's all that really matters. True, we don't have our entire careers set out in stone yet, but we will do what makes us happy.