College Admissions: Acceptance or Rejection?

A blog article in today’s New York Times‘ parenting blog, “Motherlode,” has provoked some strong comments from readers–and raised a whole host of feelings and questions in me. In the article, “Waiting for College Decisions,” a father discusses his complex set of feelings and hopes for his only child on the day she receives her decision letters from various prestigious colleges on the East Coast.

Because two of my children (a high school senior and a college senior) are going through the very same process right now for college and medical school, I know that the decisions stir up strong emotions in both children and parents.

I admire the author of the blog article (his name is Charles Whitin) for his honesty and for his self-reflection.  I especially admire his final point that we should appreciate our children at this moment in time, while also being aware that change and growth is inevitable.  (For me, a similar moment happened when my oldest son started college.  Here’s a link to an essay, “Suddenly,  It’s Time to Say Goodbye,” I wrote about that experience.)

I’m sorry he got lambasted by several early comments.  I hope he has thick skin and keeps writing.

Here are some of the questions that come up for me on this college admission issue:

1) Is it wrong for parents to want the best for their children? (No)

2) What is the “best for their children”? (That’s a much trickier question.)

3) Which type of college provides the best education? For what kind of student?

4) Does a “big name” college make a difference in the direction of one’s life?

5) How much money and how big a financial sacrifice is a college education worth?

6)  As parents, we take pride in our children.  Isn’t that OK?  When does “taking pride” turn into “getting enmeshed”?

7)  Where are the boundary lines between caring too much, caring, and not caring enough?

I’m glad there is a place online where people are debating and discussing these issues.

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Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 10:09 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. Dear Alchemist–I was reviewing something I wrote and followed the reference to the piece “March Madness” that appeared last spring in the NYT Motherlode Blog. I am not certain that I ever saw and/or responded to your commentary, which I liked and appreciated as you interpreted my words very faithfully.

    Some of the vitriol in the responses came from two people who had decided they did not care for me in my words and person while we participated in a workshop. I only learned of this a few month later, as a former workshop-mate told me what I had suspected to be the case. There were several dead-on interpretations which were most gratifying. I believe the positive comments outnumbered the sour ones by 4:1, maybe 5:1. BTW, I do not have thick skin, but I am confident about the subject and my feelings, so the ad hominem stuff did not affect me deeply. Most of all, I was delighted to see my piece posted by Lisa Belkin in her Motherlode Blog.

    My daughter is off to a very good start. She finds NYC and her serious-minded colleagues intimidating, but she seems to be adjusting well academically and having fun, too. It is far too soon to know how things will work out.

    The people who were commenting about the money of such an elite education are ignorant of what should be a bald fact–if you can get yourself accepted by one of the highly endowed institutions, they have the most money to grant in financial aid. We are very thankful for that! Columbia is far less expensive than a local community college for us and our daughter, as it turns out.

    How did your son fare with the process? Hope it went as well for you, and thanks again for your thoughts about the essay.

    Best, Charles Whitin

  2. Hi Alchemist,

    I’m going to avoid commenting on the parenting questions because each child is so unique. Each parent’s appropriate role in the college selection and admissions process depends on the strengths, weaknesses and motivation of their student.

    I did find both your blog entry and Mr. Whitin’s article compelling. Attending a big name college can certainly make a difference in your life. Anecdotally, I’ve heard many stories of employers being impressed by applicants who attended schools that pass “the bumper sticker test.” However, studies show that a student’s ability is a much larger determining factor for future success than where he or she went to school. Future earnings are correlated to where you went to school, but they’re not determined by it. This is because the top schools have such a high caliber of applicants; they’re already talented when they come into the school as freshmen.

    There are a lot of schools out there. Most schools have the resources to allow highly-motivated and talented students to succeed. In fact, the second and third choice schools of most students are often as good of a fit for them as their first choice school. It’s sometimes difficult to get that through to a student who sets his or her heart on a particular school, but as someone who works with these applicants (and as a parent, I’m sure) it’s comforting to know that not “everything” is resting on the decision of their top school’s admissions department.

    -Dan


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