Tag Archives: college admission

Say “No” to an Admission Offer from a Highly Selective College?

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Sometimes I cringe when I re-read some of my older Blog posts. And sometimes I think I was spot on.

Early April is here – and with it, I’m moving beyond the March Madness of basketball (that final game where the underdog team Villanova beat UNC at the buzzer was well worth staying up late for) – and again observing the annual “madness” that the college acceptance season has become.

I wrote a Blog post in April, 2015 expressing my thoughts on what really matters when making a college choice.

Here is what I said then  – I think it rings as true today as it did a year ago ———>

 

———> Yes, it is a ridiculous and harmful obsession that some parents, shared at times by their teens, have with getting accepted to an elite, highly selective college.

And yes, “getting in” can become the narrowest of goals in the madness of this college admission season.

But – can I be honest here?

I think it really DOES matter where a student goes to college.

But probably not for the reasons you think.

1st – Attending a college with a well-known brand name DOES open future doors.

I agree 150% that fit matters far more than brand name. Yet brand name can help, especially in the post-college years – – let’s not kid ourselves.

When I applied for internships and jobs, every interviewer I met labeled me (rightly or wrongly) as smart based upon the school from which I had graduated.

“You went to Smith? My (daughter/wife/sister/niece/cousin) went to Smith. You must be smart.”

The name of my college opened doors – got me interviews, introduced me to well-connected alums.

Here’s the key though: It was up to me to achieve once I got in that door.

So if your teen pushes for a brand name school, he understands its’ name will always be on his resume. He’s right; that name alone may ease his path to jobs and graduate schools. But he has to do the work once he gets there.

2nd – Going to a college that offers a diverse and intellectually stimulating community in which to live DOES matter.

Much of the learning in college comes from outside the classroom – which is why it is important to attend a college where you will be surrounded by people you will learn from.

And, assuming a student, is open to new ideas, because this is really what college is about, isn’t it? –  she will not learn as much from people who look like her, think like her and grew up near her than she would from people who are dissimilar.

Diversity DOES matter – because highly selective schools usually can and do offer more financial aid, a student may find a truly diverse student community, in terms of background, beliefs, ethnicity, race and social class in a more selective school.

3rd –  and most important to me  – Where a student goes to college DOES matter to that student’s Mental Health.

Parents and their teens must discuss the topic of college student mental health – before the student sets foot on campus next fall.

The absurd stress of the college admission process is but a harbinger of things to come. If a student gets accepted to the dream elite school of her choice, the prize is an entrance ticket into an even more stressful academic environment.

Highly selective schools function as pressure cookers, packed with intensely focused kids driven to succeed and achieve, to get that A, to find the best internship, to land a prestigious job after graduation or get into a top medical school.

And the impact of all of that stress?

An increasingly deleterious impact on the mental health of college students. More students than ever, according to recent studies, report feeling anxious, depressed and/or stressed.

The University of Pennsylvania, seeking its own answers after a series of student suicides,  wants to change its own campus culture of  self-described “destructive perfectionism” – – a culture sadly familiar to many at similar top colleges where driven students put immense pressure on themselves to achieve and then think they have failed themselves (and perhaps their parents) if they don’t meet their often overly ambitious goals.

So step back a minute.

If accepted to a highly selective school, congratulations – and yes, it’s true that its’ name brand will be a helpful lifetime credential and alumni connection.

And yes, a top college often offers the most intellectually intriguing and diverse community in which to study and make forever friends.

But perhaps – if your student gets accepted by the most tippy-top, elite of schools, because of his perfect grades, mega test scores, impossibly impressive list of awards, achievements and leadership positions, even if your son or daughter is the kind of student who could barely find time to floss in high school, given how busy he or she was –

Perhaps your student should do the unexpected –  and  consider saying “no, thank you” to that most elite of colleges?

What if your student instead considered instead a college with a culture that is not one of  “destructive perfectionism” – but instead one that will support as well as challenge a student.

Here’s the plan:

  • Colleges themselves must take the first step to lessen the pressure to be perfect in order to be accepted.
  • Parents should dial down their own expectations.
  • Students should put their own mental health first (and second, and third) – and start rethinking about college (and high school) as places in which to enjoy learning, to thrive in instead of being driven into a frenzy of unrealistic achievement goals.

Then the only March Madness will be the games we watch on T.V.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1st Job, College, College, Education, Mental Health, Parenting, Raising Kids, Young Adult Mental Health

Was it Something I Said? – – Job Rejection at a “Certain Age”

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Rejection? Does it get easier to handle when you are older?

Rejection is something to learn from, I would tell my kids when one didn’t get the part he wanted in a school play or the other was not invited to a sleep-over.

You learn that “life is unfair” (my Dad’s favorite phrase) or “when one door closes, another opens” (my Mom’s more optimistic approach) or “don’t take it personally” (my husband’s soothing words of choice.)

I kept these phrases in mind when I opened my email last Friday to read:

Thank you for your time on Wednesday. There were a number of applicants for this opening. (Name of employer) regrets that we are unable to offer you the position of (job title) at this time. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.”

OUCH!

A friend told me a few weeks ago that a well-regarded, college planning company was looking to fill a part-time, seasonal position. I’m not looking for a job, I told her. But this ad, for a college essay specialist, has your name on it, Nancy, my friend insisted. You have the qualifications, you should apply. So I did.

To prep for my interview, I studied the Common Application college essay prompts for next Fall’s admission season. High school seniors using the Common App will write an essay, up to 650 words, on one of five topics. Here’s Topic #2:

 

 “The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

How ironic is it that when I applied for a position to assist high school students in brainstorming, writing (their words, not mine!) and editing their essays that I was the one to experience failure?

It could have been something I said or didn’t say. Perhaps it was how I looked? Was I over-qualified? Under-qualified? Not a good fit?

I don’t know why I wasn’t chosen but I can, in up to 650 words, write about it.

1. “Recount an incident when you experienced failure.”

The last time I had a job interview was 23 years ago. Last week my interviewers were a great deal younger and there were two of them in one room. One sat directly in front of me, the other to my left, requiring a great deal of head swiveling. Thought I did well on that. One seemed friendlier, one a bit cooler. I answered their questions, perhaps too candidly, as is my nature. And then to a separate room to take a written test. I like tests, thought that part went well, too.

But I admit, as I left their building, I did not have that warm fuzzy (they liked me! they really liked me!) feeling.  I wrote a nice thank you note. Waited a day. Then the “regrets” email came.

2. “How did it affect me?”

I was surprised, not shocked, but I was upset. Got that pit in the stomach sick feeling. I called my husband who told me not to “take it personally.” Completely unhelpful advice. (Apologies here to my kids for ever saying that to you.) OF COURSE,  I TOOK IT PERSONALLY. They rejected me. That is about as personal as it gets. We do not want you. You may think you were right for the job. We don’t agree. Guess who wins.

I emailed a few friends who were rooting for me. More reassurance; I started to calm down. My stomach returned to its normal state (hunger.) It was late afternoon; I still had research to do for an article I’m writing on college mental health and revisions to make to an agreement I’m drafting for a non-profit board.

Rejection affected me – but not for long. Move on, things to do, next project, please.

3. “What did I learn from the experience?”

I don’t think I learned anything new. When I was younger, I tasted failure often enough. This time, even though I bounced back more quickly, failure had that same bitter taste.

In my 3rd year of law school, when I was hunting for my first job, I had a series of interviews at a small DC law firm that I really wanted to join. I eagerly waited to hear from them. Email had yet to be invented so it was a letter in the mail that gave me the bad news resulting in that same pit in my stomach sick feeling.

The next day I called one of the lawyers at the firm, an older partner who I seemed to connect with during our 20 minute interview, and asked him why I didn’t get the job. He was surprisingly candid. He told me  – “We all thought you had spunk, but your grades didn’t measure up.”

True. My college and grad school grades had been excellent, but my law school grades were less than stellar. And it was also true that I had spunk. Still do.

Yes, being older brings perspective, resilience, maybe even a bit of wisdom. But no getting past it, failure still hurts whatever your age.

What then did I learn from my recent brush with the world of employment?

That sometimes spunk isn’t enough, that your qualifications can get you in the door but now, as then, sometimes life is unfair (you’re right, Dad.) But when one door closes, another door opens. (you were right, Mom.) I’m going to walk through that open door now.

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Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Careers, College, Law firm life, Lawyers, Midlife, Parenting, Second Careers, Women, Women in the Workplace, Writing

Let’s Stop The Real “March Madness”: the Stress of College Admission Season

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I disagree with part of what New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, said  – and take issue with what he didn’t say – in his recent column about the madness of this College Admission season.

Yes, it is a ridiculous and harmful obsession that some parents have, shared at times by their teens, with getting accepted to an elite, highly-selective college.

And yes, “getting in” can become the narrowest of goals in this March Madness college admission season.

But – can I be honest here?

I think it really DOES matter where you go to college.

But probably not for the reasons you think.

First – the name brand cachet does opens doors.

When I applied for internships during and for jobs after college, every single interviewer I met labeled me (rightly or wrongly) as smart based upon the school from which I had graduated.

“You went to Smith? My (daughter/wife/niece/cousin) went to Smith. You must be smart.”

(note that the interviewer in my day was always a man. always)

The name of my college opened doors – got me interviews, introduced me to well-connected alums. But it was up to me to achieve once I got in that door.

So if your teen pushes for a brand name school, he understands its name will always be on his resume. He’s right; that name alone will ease his path to jobs and graduate schools.

Second – going to a selective college offers a diverse and intellectually stimulating community in which to live.

Much of the learning in college comes from outside the classroom – which is why it is so important to attend a college where you will be surrounded by people you will learn from.

And, assuming a student, is open to new ideas, because this is really what college is about, isn’t it? –  she will not learn as much from people who look like her, think like her and grew up near her than she would from people who are dissimilar.

Diversity does matter – because highly-selective schools can afford (although not all do) to offer more financial aid, a student is more likely to find a truly diverse student community, in terms of background, beliefs, ethnicity, race and social class in a more selective school.

Third –  and most important, IMHO, where you go to college matters to a student’s mental health.

Bruni does not discuss this but parents and students must.

The absurd stress of the college admission process is but a harbinger of things to come. If a student gets accepted to the dream elite school of her choice, the prize is an entrance ticket into an even more highly stressful academic environment.

Highly-selective schools function as pressure cookers, packed with intensely focused kids driven to succeed and achieve, to get that A, to find the best internship, to land a prestigious job after graduation or get into a top medical school.

And the impact of all of that stress?

An increasingly deleterious impact on the mental health of college students. More students than ever, according to a recent UCLA study, report feeling anxious, depressed and/or stressed.

The University of Pennsylvania, seeking its own answers after a series of student suicides, acknowledges but wants to change its own campus culture of “destructive perfectionism” – – a culture sadly familiar to many at top colleges where similarly driven students put immense pressure on themselves to achieve and then think they have failed themselves (and perhaps their parents) if they don’t meet their often overly-ambitious goals.

Don’t the most selective of colleges bear much of the responsibility for the creation of this pressure cooker culture since it is the colleges themselves that have ratcheted up, with each passing year, this March Madness of the college admission season?

So step back a minute.

If accepted to a highly selective school yes, it’s true that its’ name brand will be a helpful lifetime credential and connection.

And yes, an elite top college may provide the most diverse community in which to live.

But perhaps – even if your student gets accepted by the most tippy-top, elite of schools, because of his perfect grades, mega test scores, impossibly impressive list of awards, achievements and leadership positions, even if your son or daughter is the kind of student who could barely find time to floss in high school, given how busy he or she was keeping up the most competitive of applicant resumes –

Perhaps your student should do the unexpected –  and say “no, thank you” to that most elite of colleges?

What if your student instead considered instead a college with a culture that is not one of  “destructive perfectionism” – but instead one that will support as well as challenge a student.

Here’s the plan:

  • Colleges must take the first step to lessen the pressure to be perfect in order to be accepted.
  • Parents must dial down their expectations.
  • Our students must get the message that colleges (and high schools) are places in which to enjoy learning, to thrive in instead of being driven into a frenzy of unrealistic achievement goals.

Then the only March Madness will be the games we watch on T.V.

Let’s all bet on that.

 

 

 

 

 

14 Comments

March 31, 2015 · 4:19 pm

Lessons from an A-Minus Childhood: “Do Your Best” or “Be the Best”?

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If Nancy M., my friend and occasional nemesis in elementary school, is reading this, I hope she is happy and successful.

No doubt she is because she was one of the smartest girls in our grade.

Born one month apart, classmates from kindergarten on, she and I shared a popular-at-the-time, first name (in case you missed it), as well as highly developed verbal abilities (top reading group!) and dark  brown hair. She was Nancy M. and I was Nancy W. We both excelled in spelling bees, english and social studies. Teachers always called on us because they knew we knew the answers. Our Moms were close friends and chatted often. Apparently a frequent topic of their conversation was how their daughters were doing in school.

When I came home after school with a newly graded test or quiz, the first question my Mom would often ask me was:

“What grade did Nancy M. get?”

Forever I was to be compared with Nancy M. And forever I was the one who received the occasional A-minus while Nancy M. dutifully came home with straight A’s.

I’m sure my Mom (who sadly, is no longer here to ask) never intended to create in me the belief that an A-minus was akin to a failing grade. But that is how her frequent question made me feel. I did well academically, but knew that however well I did, there was always someone out there, named Nancy or not, who got the A when I got the A-minus.

The legend of Nancy M. made me more sensitive when I became a Mom. I was determined to raise my kids without that theme of comparative childhoods.

Yet as hard as I tried not to put pressure on my own kids, anxieties about their academic success did cross my mind, even if they didn’t cross my lips.

One of my young adults tells me that I was always measuring his performance against other kids. To hear him tell it, his childhood was filled with stress-inducing, albeit unspoken, parental expectations hovering above him at all times like a cartoon thought bubble.

My other young adult remembers it differently.

I know you and Dad went to top colleges. So I expected I would do the same.” She tells me I didn’t have to say a word to know what was expected of her but that most of the pressure she put on herself was self-driven.

So I started to think during this March Madness a/k/a The College Admission Season:

Is it what we say as parents – or sometimes what we don’t say – that causes our kids to feel that sometimes overwhelming stress to succeed?

Last night I watched a new TV show that my friend Caroline (devoted readers of my Blog may remember her from “Road Trip” fame)  introduced me to. Called “Fresh Off the Boat”, it seems at first glance to be the kind of laugh-a-minute sitcom I usually don’t see. But this one is different, laughs yes, but subtle too, focusing on the immigrant experience, through a Chinese-American family who is trying to fit in without losing their values.

In last night’s episode, the Mom, Jessica Huang, adroitly played by actress Constance Wu, tells her children, as she does everyday:

If you are going to do something, be the best.”

But so well-written is the show that she doesn’t come off as a stereotypical, perfection-demanding, “Tiger Mom.” Instead we understand that the pressure she puts on her kids is because she truly wants them to be happy. And in her mind, being successful = being happy.

That made me examine my own parenting motives.  I always said “Do your best” to my kids before they participated in a spelling bee in elementary school, had a math test in middle school or took the SAT in high school.

But perhaps what my kids really heard was not the explicit “Do your best” –  but the implicit message “Be the best.”?

It is too late now to take back what I said or didn’t say to my own kids. But if yours are still young enough to be somewhere between math quizzes and the SAT – or even more importantly if they are looking at or are in college now – – the lesson here is that even if we don’t say it aloud our kids still hear the – do well! – succeed! – be the best! – pressure-inducing messages loud and clear.

And stress, teens and college students are an increasingly combustible mental health mix.

From a Mom who knows, please let them do their best without worrying that they must always be the best. Even if Jessica Huang feels differently.

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, College, Education, Mental Health, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Women, Young Adult Mental Health