A few months ago, the New York Times published an article entitled “Advice College Admissions Officers Give Their Own Kids.” There were some helpful points, as well as honest and practical advice. But what would have been far more intriguing is an article called “What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say.”
This is the blessing and curse of our work. Each year we meet amazing students around the country who are incredibly accomplished. They’ve mastered multiple coding languages, started their own companies, written plays and books, and achieved ranks in martial arts and piloting that many twice their age would envy. They humble us, they inspire us, and honestly they give me hope for the future of our country. But on the flip side it also makes us hyper- aware of the competition that exists on a macro scale.
It impacts our marriages: Spouse 1: “Look honey, isn’t she amazing. She’s four months and already pulling up. What core strength?! Maybe she’ll be an Olympic gymnast.” Admission Spouse: “Probably not. I’ve read essays from kids who at her age were already doing Yurchenko Loops.” (Not the recipe for amorous relations.)
It offends our mother-in-law: “Oh my goodness! He’s so smart. He knew how much change we would get when I bought him that ice cream after kindergarten today.” Admission Son-in-law: “Pssshhtt… some kids his age are doing differential equations while they eat their cheese sticks.” (Somehow you’re at the kids table at the following Thanksgiving.)
We quickly learn that to preserve our marriages and our friendships/sanity, we have to adapt. It reminds me of the childrens book Being Frank. Frank has to learn from his Grandpa Earnest that while “honesty is the best policy” sometimes it’s best served with “more sugar and less pepper.”
Spouse 1: “I think he should have him tryout for the pre-Academy team.” Admission Spouse thinks, “He’s going to get smoked. He’s not even the best player on his team. But maybe this will motivate him to practice more.” And so we say, “I don’t mind taking him.”
A friend says, “We are going to send her to X private school. Last year they sent students to Stanford, Dartmouth, and U. Chicago.” Admission Friend thinks admit rates: “4.7, 10.9, 7.8…” and then says “Well, that’s a great school. I know she’ll enjoy their class on ‘Evil in the Guilded Age.’”
If you watch closely though, you’ll see these folks utilizing some physical crutches as they utter these statements. They’ll scratch their bottom lip with their teeth before responding, or they’ll empahatically close and then re-open their eyes as if a bug just flew directly in. We do it out of love…and survival.
Consider These Stats
- 3.3 million high school students graduating in USA on annual basis
- 65% of high school grads go on to 4 year colleges/universities
- Under 14,000 or .6 % of students entering a four year school will go to an Ivy League school.
- ~271,000 seniors play hs football
- 6% will go on to play college football
- ~ 5000 (1.8%) freshman receive D1 scholarships
We’re still typical parents. Just look back at the pictures from that NYT article. We hike, hug, drive mini-vans, and occasionally go to Chili’s due to a lack of good options at an out of town baseball tournament. We love our kids and we support them and encourage them and want them to thrive. We highly encourage them to take tough classes– to compete at a high level in athletics– and to broaden their interests and skills in the arts.
I am an optimist. A cup half fuller. Several of my family members went to Princeton and several also worked there. My wife and I both went to UNC- Chapel Hill for college. Our DNA is solid. But statistically I realize that it’s unlikely either of my kids will get into those schools. Hell, it’s unlikely that any of my close friends in Atlanta will have kids that get in or go to either. I’m ok with that. We still cheer for them. We buy the sweatshirts in the campus bookstore and tell stories of mid-fall strolls through the quad with fondness. But, like you, the majority of our days and years are spent reminding them that we love them; that we are proud of them; that we enjoy watching them sing on stage or swimming in meets; or just walking up the drive way after being gone. What we think is that we are just glad to be parents. What we think is that they’ll ultimately go somewhere for college- and that will be just fine, even if it’s not an Ivy or our alma mater. What we think is that we are thankful to have had our college experience, even if ultimately our kids don’t have the same one.
Frank Bruni recently wrote Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. He enumerates endless examples of Pullitzer Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars, CEOs, etc. who went to schools on pages two and three of US News rankings or with 50%+ admit rates. These are the numbers. These are the facts. And thousands of very intelligent parents who love their kids around the country have read the book and processed the information. But in the “summer calm” I can clearly see that we are again on the cusp of another fall filled with high pressure and anxiety among parents who will push and pay and travel and angst about their kids being in that .6%.
I get why the NYT wrote the piece they did. Perhaps the broader public is not yet ready for “What Admission Folks Think But Don’t Say.” But if you are, then the next time you see an admission counselor with a band aid on her lower lip, just say, “It’s OK. I know the code. You can tell me what you’re really thinking. Should I send Jimmy to flute camp?”