Monday, May 23, 2011

College Selection Process

It's about time I dusted off the keyboard and got back to blogging. It's tempting to say that the "college selection process" absorbed so much of my mental energy that I could not blog. The process DID engender much thought, energy and emotion. Might as well break the ice by talking about it.

I want to make some observations about the process, knowing that every family dynamic is different and every student is unique. Here we go:

1. The process could turn into a "life and death" or "be all and end all" situation. It is the parents' job to make it NOT this way. In reality, it's a process that ends with a result....your child is going to the college that is the result of the process, and the result is you collectively make a great decision.

2. Taking trips to visit colleges, or taking trips to visit cities that have a lot of colleges (like Boston) can be a great time. It should be approached that way. Not only does it help the decision making process, but it makes for nice mini-vacations.

3. There is a vast amount of information available. This is good and bad. Avail yourself, but don't go insane about it. If you are new to the process, two sites we used a lot were and I admit that I did look at "rankings" in various publications, but unless "status" is what you're all about, these don't help much.

4. College is expensive, but there is a ton of financial aid available. I'm talking grants and aid here, not loans. Almost all schools use the "FAFSA," a long financial disclosure form. Many schools also use additional financial applications. These are really detailed, require backup info, and have deadlines. We used a professional person to assist us with this part of it. It turned out to be well worth the investment (of time and money) to do this part right.

5. There are several parts of the process that elicit family discussions on a mature level. This can be difficult at first, but I found that once we started having these discussions, new levels of mutual respect were attained. This was well worth the effort.

The most interesting of these discussions were about "affirmative action" and admissions criteria. Schools all emphasize how committed they are to "diversity." This flies in the face of the types of achievement most high school students have been pursuing. It is a shock to have high grades, high SAT scores, high AP scores and "extracurriculars" trumped by diversity.
Diversity does not mean simply "racial" diversity, though it becomes quite clear that some ethnic groups are evaluated by a different set of criteria regarding grades, SAT's and the like. It's one thing to learn about this in social studies, but feeling that you have lost a spot to a "less qualified" competitor is a real dose of real life. I didn't like it when it happened to me, and I said so, but I also pointed out that in the end, you go where you go and whether it works is up to YOU.

I think the other types of "diversity" bothered Rebecca more. The other diversity preferences are for athletes, foreign students, legacies, and geography. Bottom line -- being white, Jewish and from New York does not help.....unless you are applying outside the northeast. That may help for some, but if you want to be up here, you are in an uphill fight with the diversity boogie man. For what it's worth, I was accepted to (and attended) The University of Texas Law School back in the late 70's. It was, and still is, one of the best schools in the country, and at that time took only 10% from out of State. I didn't get into a bunch of comparable east coast law schools. How did I get into UT Law? Diversity.

Other maturity provoking discussions were about "what kind of career might you want," "what is important in a school," "what kind of college lifestyle do you prefer," and the like. This is a big step up the maturity ladder.

We also had discussions about family finances, something that had never been openly discussed before. As we were discussing this, we realized that when a child does not know or learn about finances, their maturity level will not develop as it should.

6. The process involves a lot of DECISIONS. What schools to apply to? What mix of "safe" and "target" and "reaches?" I can't speak for other families, but I can say that we had about 20 schools "in play" at various times. We made charts, and had talks about the schools. Schools were added, some were dropped, some came back on the list. At a certain point we got it down to 12, with a mixture of safes, targets and reaches.

7. Before the next round of decisions, there is something that some students have never faced before.....DISAPPOINTMENT. We had some of this; that's why some schools are "reaches." What can you say when a classmate who was not academically in your child's league (on any objective measure) gets into your child's first choice, for no other reason than "diversity." Well, you say "Fuck you, Brown" (Rebecca's quote, not mine, though I was proud of her for saying it), and you make your decision from the more worthy schools on your list.

8. When the smoke clears, you look at the acceptances, and DECIDE. This makes it sound like it happened quickly. For us, this was the hard part. We had it down to three. All were visited, all had strong points. We all researched, we all got input from many sources. We talked among ourselves. We contemplated on our own. Felicia and I agreed that while we would work together, ultimately Rebecca would make the decision.

It came down to Cornell, Wesleyan and Vassar.

I will never forget the process.

I am proud of her decision.

Wesleyan, Class of 2015