Tag Archives: higher ed

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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Why Colleges May Offer “Parent Only” Dorms by 2025

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anxious Teens and College Kids? – Don’t Put All The Blame on Parents

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When our son was five or six years old we signed him up, as we did with his older sister, for a recreational league soccer team. Soccer is the Big Saturday Thing to do around here and while he was more of a Lego kid than a ball sports kid, we thought he should at least give soccer a try.

After all my husband was (is) quite the athlete, a nine-letter-man in high school. He hoped his stronger genes would outweigh my total lack of eye-hand coordination.

Hope springs eternal in parenting expectations.

On the first day of soccer practice our son wandered out onto the field and studied the trees and the landscape on the sidelines while the other kids ran around chasing the ball.

At next Saturday’s game, our son’s primary interest was again in the natural world around him. He didn’t seem to notice where the ball was – or indeed that there was a ball on the field.

Before the next Saturday rolled around, I asked him if he was enjoying learning the game of soccer. He admitted that he was not.

Is there anything about soccer that you like? anything at all?”

He replied –  “Yes, I like the orange sections at half-time.”

And that was the end of our son’s brief soccer career. (and the early confirmation of his life-long interest in biology, chemistry and cooking.)

This little life lesson from two decades ago taught me as nothing else has that our kids are not bendable, pre-cooked pretzels who we can shape according to our parental expectations.

So when I read the recent out-pouring of articles on overly-involved parents pushing their teens and college students into directions that their parents think are best for them, no matter what their kids think, I have to ask.

Has parenting changed that much since our son moved off the soccer field?

The cover of a recent New York Times book review featured no less than three books placing blame on parental shoulders:

  • “How to Raise an Adult – Break Free of the Over-Parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”
  • “The Prime of Life – A History of Modern Adulthood”
  • “Why Grow Up? – Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age”

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to agree that “over-parenting” (short-hand for extreme parental interference/guidance a/k/a helicoptering) –  that done by a (I believe, very) small number of parents with “elite only” college admission as a laser-like focus end goal, can and does cause psychological harm to their teens.

But I doubt that parents bear as much blame for college student emotional distress as these authors and the media would have us believe.

“Expectational Anxiety” Has Many Sources.

Teens and young adults breathe in an air of “expectational anxiety” created by multiple sources.

This aura of great expectations can burden all kids; even those with the most independence-encouraging of parents feel its’ weight.

Kids as young as middle school age breathe in the “college is critical” message  – whispered by their eager-beaver classmates, from their high school teachers and counselors who remind them that college is just around the corner so grades really, really matter, they see ads for “get the highest score here” test prep companies, they hear the stories about how hard it is to get into the “right” college and how important it is to go to the best one you can – that college choice will make or break you for the rest of your life!! – from older siblings and friends.

Add in kid savvy about the economy, their awareness that the highest paying jobs are the most coveted, that tuition skyrockets unreasonably each year, and their status at the recipient end of the anxiety-producing mountains of  marketing and promotional materials that colleges and universities distribute with alarming frequency.

Top this all off with the explicit ridiculously high expectations set by college admission offices, the frequent lists and rankings of “top” colleges and purportedly “helpful” college advising websites that frequently use the word “Ivy” in their brand names.

Yes, teens and college students feel the weight of anxiety-producing expectations on their own shoulders, no matter what their parents may say or do – or not say or do.

Therefore a request: Mr. or Ms. Media, can you stop putting the blame so much on parents as a large, undifferentiated group?  Sure, a few parents qualify as micro-managers, helicoptering and over-controlling; these parents must be out there since you write about them so much – – but most parents of teens and college students are not like that – instead they try as hard as they can NOT to pressure their kids, to support them on their way to independent adulthood, to let them make informed choices of their own.

So would you just back off and aim your pointed pen at the many other culprits (see list above) that release this expectational anxiety into the air our kids and college students breathe. Parents do not deserve the blame being heaped on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Going for the ‘Wow” Factor in College Admissions – From 2001 To 2015

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I often think I am a prescient person. Then sometimes I find proof.

While cleaning a long-forgotten shelf this week, I came across an old folder containing copies of my early published essays.  In my lawyering days I wrote occasional freelance essays, satirical or poignant, or both, on subjects that captured my attention as a parent and was thrilled when I saw them in print.

On May 8, 2001 – 14 years ago!! – if you were reading the Washington Post, you would have seen my article on page C4:

 

Going for the ‘Wow’ Factor”

by Nancy L. Wolf – May 8, 2001

“Recently the University of California proposed to eliminate the SAT as a requirement for admission to college. I have another bold proposal to add to the debate on the college admission process: Start mandatory college counseling in the sixth grade.

What I have learned as the parent of a high school junior is that we have waited far too long to prepare our child for the rigors of the college admission process.

We thought we were ahead of the game. We knew she needed high SAT scores, excellent grades, evidence of as many advanced placement or honors-level courses as she could squeeze into a semester, and leadership in extracurricular activities. But apparently that is no longer sufficient. As the parents of juniors were informed at a recent college night at our daughter’s school, our children must also possess some great distinction, a unique talent or accomplishment to offer to their prospective college.

It is, of course, a little late, to develop a “wow” factor when your daughter is already a high school junior.

On the way home from college night, our daughter berated us for not thinking ahead. If only we had signed her up for advanced pottery classes when she was six or taught her how to fly fish when she was eight, she might have been en route to a national ranking or regional award in the talent of her choice. How could we have been so unenlightened as parents not to know to plan ahead for the college admission process.

Take a look at the Web sites of various selective colleges. Sure, they boast of the high SAT scores and grade point averages of their recently admitted classes. But they point with even more pride to the distinctive, unusual and frankly, sometimes odd accomplishments of next fall’s incoming class. Unfortunately our daughter is unable to contribute to this new diversity.

She is not a tiger trainer, nor a commercial fisherman, nor a champion cricket player. She does not milk cows at dawn on our family farm in Nebraska, or host her own cable television show, or regularly swim across the English Channel. She has not been a master junior golfer, has never been awarded a patent for her own invention and did not win a national Hula-Hoop championship. She is, simply put, a terrific kid. How devastating to find out after all these years that this is just not going to be good enough.

One of the speakers at college night was an admission officer at a university proud of its highly selective admissions standards. He shared with us the profile of a recent applicant – a young woman, first in her family to go to college, a nationally ranked pianist, the winner of numerous math awards, the captain of the tennis team, the highest of scores and grades, who had tutored young children in Chinese.

The other parents in the audience at college night were awed at her accomplishments. I could only wonder – when did she have time to floss?

With all that she packed into her day, so busy was she fashioning her pre-college resume, that she barely had time to say hello to her parents, much less to spend an hour of downtime watching MTV. I suppose that when she gets into that highly selective college of her choice, she can learn to floss there.

Yet, the admissions officer was dismissive of her achievements. He told us that she was too “well-rounded”. What his university was looking for was that special something, that oomph that no one else had. That “wow” factor that only admission officers know when they see it.

The stress on our high schoolers is palpable.

These kids worry that they must begin studying analogies for the verbal part of the SAT I well before they even know what an analogy is.  Now added to the anxiety about grades, scores and accelerated classes, they must also devote hours, beginning at a very young age, to development of their “wow” factor. That one singular talent that will help an applicant stand out from the highly qualified crowd.

The speaker at college night was dismissive as well of the accomplishments of another applicant whose admission folder he shared with us, someone he said was a “borderline” candidate, despite his extremely high SAT scores, grades and records of challenging classes. This young man, the admission officer, told us had been the class president, editor of the newspaper and captain of a varsity team. But, he said, his university gets many of these kinds of applicants – too much leadership! – these days. We parents all slumped in our chairs, racking our brains at this late date for that elusive “wow” factor.

Now I see that we have played this all wrong. As parents,  we could have helped give our daughter the “wow” factor she so desperately needs. But unfortunately, my husband is not a senator and I am not a Supreme Court justice. There are no science buildings at any of the colleges we plan to visit that have been endowed by any of our blood relatives. We have nothing to offer our daughter in the way of distinctiveness. We, too, are normal.

So I propose that mandatory pre-college counseling begin in the sixth grade. No wait, perhaps that is too late; first grade would be better. A sign-up sheet can be passed around in every school with “wow” factors to choose from. Each first grader will meet with the college counselor to decide on what “wow” factor will be his or her special area of expertise. Elementary and middle schools would hire special tutors for afternoon “wow” factor classes.

By the time each child gets into high school, that will be one less thing to stress about. Every kid will have his or her own “wow” factor.

But wait, won’t that make it less distinctive if every child has one? There, that will be our daughter’s “wow” factor – she will be the “normal” one! No one has a “normal” for a “wow” factor these days – she’s in!”

 

(post script from May 14, 2015)

Our daughter graduated in 2006 from an amazing liberal arts college which somehow overlooked her lack of a single “wow” factor, and instead had the wisdom to recognize that having a terrific, well-rounded, smart and thoughtful young woman on their campus would be an excellent fit for both of them. Would that be the outcome in 2015? Perhaps not, the college admission process has gotten even more frantic since 2001.  The pressure on teens and college kids to be distinctive, to excel, to be perfect has reached epic proportions. How can we  – as parents – push the pendulum back to the not so far off good ol’ days when being a terrific, well-rounded kid was actually a sought after quality? For the sake of our kids’ mental health, we must take steps to do this.)

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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March 31, 2015 · 4:19 pm