Wide Awake: Round Three
Searching for the perfect college, one last time

This month, my youngest daughter will begin touring colleges. Marirose is a junior in high school, so she is about to be a contestant in the college application game. It’s my third time watching a daughter play this game, so I know firsthand that none of this will be fun.

You start off with high hopes when you book the college tours. It’s a chance to have a short getaway with your teen and see what possibilities the future holds for them. That sounds enjoyable. But then all the information sessions/tours start sounding all the same, and you realize some of the parents in the audience are a little psycho about getting their child into college. You realize this game has some pretty intense players, and you better figure out your game plan or be left on the sidelines, where everyone is very unhappy because their life will never, ever be any good.

Then you remember that you’re an adult, and you know there are many colleges that can offer a student a good life.

As we review college lists now, I’m starting to have flashbacks to the many conversations I had with other parents who offered their advice for tipping the admissions scale in your favor: Have your child email the admissions rep with questions (one mom even told me the questions to ask), go to every admissions event the school offers, and package your child as a well-rounded, mega-involved, philanthropic, super-smart and hard-working teenager.

At one information session, I overheard the college’s admissions rep tell a parent that when she inputs an applicant’s name into her computer, the first thing that pops up is how many times the student has visited, emailed or called the school. She was telling the mom that it’s beneficial when a student visits, emails and calls multiple times. That’s one school.

This is a big job for a 17-year-old. The college Common Application is extensive, and some colleges require a supplemental application, usually with additional short-answer questions (like, describe a time when an idea you had saved the world?). Then of course, you have to score high on the SAT and write a killer essay, all while getting good grades in your honors and AP courses, and playing a sport and/or appearing in the school musical. On top of all that, there is a cloud hanging over your head that says if this doesn’t turn out the way you want, your life just isn’t going to be all that great.

Marirose, the most driven (and stressed) of my three daughters, takes all this to heart. She tries to be that super-applicant, and it’s led to migraines, nights of homework ending at 1 am and even tears. All the while Joe and I are urging her to relax. Skip that last reading assignment and go to bed. (Really, we have told our child to not complete her homework so she could sleep.)

We tell her that life will be good, really good, no matter what. And that no teacher, no test score, no college admissions letter will give her a good future. Only she can do that – and there’s more than one way to do it. She might have some bad times before she gets to those happy times, but she’ll get there.

You may be surprised to know that neither Joe nor I think the demands of colleges – or the world – should be easier. We happen to be big fans of competition. We’ve tried to show our daughters that they can set a high goal and work intensely, but they should always be sure they’re happy. Who wants to play a game if you’re not having fun?

So we’re off to round three of college tours and information sessions. Let the games begin.

April 2015
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