Why are we, parents in the U.S., a decade ago and still now, so ridiculously over-invested in where our offspring go to college?
Nearly ten years ago our daughter spent her spring college semester studying in Florence, Italy. Beautiful Firenze! My husband and I visited her in early March.
From my albeit brief experience as a world traveler, I can confidently tell you that parents in other countries may not be quite as invested in their kids’ college acceptance outcomes as we are.
Wrapping scarves around our necks in Florentine fashion to walk around the city every morning, my husband would ask for “caffe macchiato” and I said “prego” to every shopkeeper. I’m sure we did not fool anyone into thinking we were Italians, but we liked to pretend that we were.
Being on vacation for a week that March distracted me from what was really on my mind. Waiting for college admission news for our younger child back home, then a senior in high school.
So while I was standing in line to get in to see the statue of David, admiring the crenellated tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and discovering the varied delights of crostini and ribollita, inside my head I was partially back at home waiting for the mail to arrive.
This was in the day before email notifications of college admissions so I was visualizing thick envelopes (yes!) and thin letters (no) – and worrying.
Whenever we travel, my Detroit-born husband likes to point out what kinds of cars the locals drive. He has gotten me in that habit, too. On our Italy trip that March it struck me what the cars I saw did NOT have.
Not a single car had a college sticker on its’ bumper or rear window!
How was that possible?
And in the other parts of Tuscany that we toured in our tiny rental car, we did not spot a car window or bumper sticker that said “Universita degli Studi di Firenze” or “di Siena” or “di Pisa”.
I remember thinking, if only we could never leave Italy, where there did not seem to be a parental obsession with where their children went to college. Unlike back home where parents wore college identifying caps, t-shirts, sweatshirts and drove cars sporting omnipresent rear window and bumper stickers as if we were the ones enrolled in college instead of our kids.
Our vacation ended, as all vacations (sadly) do, and we had to return to the land of overly-abundant college affiliation indicia.
Why do so many of us point with such pride to our kids’ Higher Ed affiliations in what we drive and wear as if we were the ones who actually did the hard work to get admitted?
Earlier this fall – prior to my recent Fabulous Fibula Fracture – I had started to volunteer with a terrific college access organization which helps first-generation kids apply to, find financing for, get accepted by and once there, stay in college.
I can’t wait until my ankle is healed enough so I can hobble on back to it.
In this program I work directly with high school seniors. Not that I have anything against parents – heck, I am one – but having been through the college admission process 2x, I would not want to deal with any parent who behaved as I did.
Thinking back to those past Octobers and Novembers when we were in the absolute thick of the college admission process, when the “C” word was like a curse word at our dining room table, I know that I was not at my best and highest self.
Those fall days when my kids snapped at me if I asked innocent questions such as “Good morning” or “How are you?” – which my children wisely recognized as Mom code for “Have you finished your applications yet?”
The tension in our house was palpable. Luckily, my kids were accepted at great colleges because of what they, not me, accomplished.
This fall of 2015 the media reminds us that parents are even more involved (if that is possible) with their kids’ college choices. If this over-involvement trend continues, where might it lead to in another decade?
I see the future:
By the year 2025 The National Association of Over-Involved High School Pre-College Parents (“NAOIHSPCP”) will have successfully lobbied for and won the right to be College Co-Attendees!
- New “parent-only-variants” of the SAT and ACT will be adapted so parents will be able to submit their own corollary college applications.
- Parents will be required to write their own “Why I Am Unique and Have Passion So You Should Admit Me” essays.
- And by the 2025 colleges will have created specially configured dorms so parents may live on campus near their offspring.
Satirical, maybe – but really, if this hyper-pride-in-where-my-kid-goes-to-college trend continues on its current trajectory, perhaps Parent-Only dorms will be the Next Big Thing?
Take it from someone who’s been there, done that -> Rip up your NAOIHSPCP membership card now while your pre-college child is still talking to you.
Remember: Your kid is the one going to college, not you. Repeat as many times as necessary. And one small bumper sticker per family only, please.