The College Application Process

For those of you not a few weeks away from putting a deposit down on a college tuition at some institution yet to be decided, might I bend your ear for a word?

You know that feeling when you are up big in a card game and then you have one bad hand where you’re left holding lots of face cards and jokers and you slide out of the lead? October until the end of the March during your child’s last year of high school – the protracted season called the college application process -- is a little like that.

Get ahead now while you can.

You mean well, and genuinely have your son or daughter’s best interest in mind, but sometimes your own intensity about the whole thing comes around and surprises you. Of course you’ll get tangled up in the wide ranging emotions that come with watching your child (check that: young adult!) separate from you and as a result swing from encouraging a nearby school or one in Singapore. You’ll have feelings you didn’t know you still harbored about your own college experience - some good, some bad and some completely irrelevant- but all with an urgency to be shared.

You will check the mailbox like its 1988.

In the early rounds, you are open to all sorts of possibilities – firefighting, Egyptology, bakery science, schools in the Deep South. You talk about stuff like finding the “Best Fit” for your kids and mean it even when you’ve never heard of the place and are pretty sure they’ve only heard of it because it’s near the beach or because a 6’10” Lithuanian got a basketball scholarship there. You swallow hard but quietly when you wonder if “best fit” is 100 miles from an airport or if a school with a Fighting Artichoke as a mascot is sufficiently reaching.

(Here I must mention - in order to protect the innocent - these examples are not specific.)

Your remarkable openness lulls you into thinking you will NEVER be one of those pushy college parents. Trouble is when the rubber meets the road and you near the end of the process; you want not just the Best Fit but also the Best. Even if you were mostly hands off up until this point, you might find yourself doing “school ranking research” and emailing it to your son or daughter during school hours or even find yourself trolling sites like College Confidential or the Student Room to “gather data.” You’re not like one of those crazy Moms who posts anything there (except FB posts like this one!) but if anyone saw your browsing history one might wonder if you were the one going back to school.

(Here I must confess these examples are very, very, embarrassingly specific.)

What is 100% sure is you will want to talk about it 10x more than your college bound son or daughter. This imbalance might be manageable if the process was compressed but when the process takes six months, you’ve all but guaranteed TOO MUCH TALKING. Secret signals with siblings is likely to follow. Add to the waiting the numbers of universities kids nowadays are applying to (like 10!) and you’ll need a matrix to keep track of all the details.

The truth is you know in our your heart that Best Fit doesn’t always equal Best in the same way that sometimes progress is not a step forward but an about turn. It is possible than Best can be measured but Best Fit is a complex algorithm you can’t solve. The other, harder truth is that at 17 or 18 years old, they know themselves better than you do now and so are in a much better position to gauge which school will get them closer to the place they’re heading.

So while talking and matrices might be a strategy at the twilight of your core parenting years, being in the service of good listening might be a better one. I have a few weeks left to take a dose of my own medicine. I’m open to having my browsing history checked.