Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm Going To College--Not You!

The Dean of Admissions at the local college where both Ron and I work, Jennifer Delahunty, is a smart and interesting woman who wrote an article on how difficult it can be for a girl to get into college a few years ago, and who recently made an impression on Eleanor because she remembered her name this fall after meeting her only once last spring at the college's Junior Visit Day. Delahunty has now collected and edited a collection of essays for parents like me, whose children are beginning the college search, and it's entitled "I'm Going to College--Not You!

When Delahunty gave a copy of the book to Ron last week, he brought it home and read it the same day, and then I read it the next day, and then Eleanor began to read some of it... but it unnerved her, so I recommended two of the essays I thought she would find most helpful: the one written by Jennifer Delahunty and her daughter Emma Britz--"Impersonating Wallpaper"--and the one by Anna Quindlen, "The Deep Pool."

She read "Impersonating Wallpaper" and then looked up.
"Did you like it?" I asked, "the way the mother would tell the story and then the daughter would tell what she was really thinking?"
"Yeah, it was all right," she said. "I think things like that when I go on college tours." She turned a few pages, looking for "The Deep Pool." When she looked up again, I said "well?"
"I really like that one," she said, "but now I'm afraid that I might pick the college close to home because it seems easier. Maybe I should pick the one farther away."
"Just think about it," Ron and I both said.

In addition to the helpful articles, I mentioned to Eleanor that "Personal Statement" by Wendy MacLeod is short and funny, and that Gail Hudson's "How to Get Into College Without Really Trying" sounds an awful lot like what she and I do already. Actually it was kind of spooky, we both agreed, to see a scenario like the ones we play out so often right there in Hudson's essay:

"'You have to choose an essay now. Use your own judgment. Then get in the car and drive to the post office.'
'All right, it's Beowulf,' she says, folding it into the envelope. 'But can you drive me to the nearest post office? I don't know how to get there.'
How will this girl ever survive on her own? I turn off the stove.
Driving downtown toward the post office, I do what any self-respecting parent would do in this moment. I shame her. 'This is really annoying. You should have taken care of all this earlier.'
She swivels her entire body toward me, voice escalating. 'When exactly would I have time to do this today? I was at school until four, and then I had a piano lesson.'
'I mean earlier, as in two months ago.'
She looks out the window. It's 5:55 P.M. And dark and raining.
We pull into the post office at 5:58. The sign says it closes at 6:30. We're half an hour early.
'See. We had plenty of time,' she tells me, huffing out of the car."

So I found plenty to like, despite not being squarely in the target audience for this collection (I didn't go out and get it because I was worried about Eleanor's college application process. I haven't asked her to do any SAT preparation or take the exam more than once. With the exception of my own alma mater, I haven't even asked her to consider applying to any particular colleges.) But rather than making me nervous in that maybe-I'm-not-doing-enough way, the essays were reassuring, telling me, collectively, that Eleanor will probably end up making the choices that are best for her, even if it's by omission and even if she can't articulate exactly why right now.

What parent of high-school-age children doesn't need that kind of reassurance?


Valerie said...

I'll probably have to read this book soon, since my middle son is now a junior. My oldest handled the college application process largely on his own and ended up at exactly the right school, even though it wasn't his first choice. He made mistakes in the process, but none that ended up making a huge difference. Due to differences in my kids' personalities, I know that it will be much harder for me to stay out of the process, so this book is going on my "to find" list.

readersguide said...

Both my kids have made very good choices based on gut feeling, so I'm a proponent of that method. It would be really nice if they were a tiny bit closer, but . . . then they wouldn't be where they are.

Care said...

Since I don't have kids, I'm full of advice. Um, not really... But it truly bugs the crap out of me when parents direct and criticize their kids choices of major/college. I understand guiding but to tell a kid, "No, an English degree is worthless, go into engg" makes me so mad. OR not choosing a great school because it is in a scary part of town?! I know a mom that isn't letting her son apply to YALE cuz it's in a crappy part of town. REALLY?!?!?
Anyway, I wish I hadn't listened to my mother. 'Nough said.

PAJ said...

Surely this posting is just for me!
I look forward to reading the book and sharing with my daughter (a junior in high school). In general, she makes really good decisions and in fact has already narrowed her college list in ways that show she knows herself well. My biggest problem with the whole process is timeline, which it sounds like this book may address. Unfortunately, procrastination is encoded in my child's DNA. Just as impatience is encoded in mine. (Thanks, Mom.)

Cschu said...

Great column! I am kind of interested in reading this book, even though I am pretty much past this stage, at this point.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Sounds like a good book. I'm not sure I'd be in the target audience either, but I do find college advice and books interesting (since I tend to compare them to my own college experience).

Jenny said...

I'm not anywhere near the target audience, but this still sounds really interesting. My college applications were such a source of stress when I was in high school, and now that I'm a couple of years out from college, I can't figure out why I thought it was going to be such a crossroads in my life.

Jeanne said...

Valerie, there are a number of essays about male college-seekers; they just didn't provoke the same kind of reactions in my household!

Readersguide, I'm pretty sure your youngest applied early admission, too!

Care, you're echoing what a lot of the essays in here say--mothers should stay out of this, because ideally they've already had their say. (Yale is in a bad part of town?!)

PAJ, I did think of you, naturally, except that I have some memories of you from college when I think you might have been a little more of a procrastinator...or perfectionist!

CSchu, for "locals" it's fun to see how other peoples' children went through this process!

Kim, yes, you could evaluate some of the advice in a way that neither parents nor prospective students can!

Jenny, where did you go to college? My college experience really was a crossroads in my life...but I recently saw that my college (Hendrix College, in Conway, AR) is on a list of "colleges that change lives."

PAJ said...

Jeanne, thanks for trying to be kind about it, but I was (still am) a procrastinator, not a perfectionist! Of course, this trait in my daughter drives me insane, but another of our college friends sarcastically commented to one of my rants "hmmm...wonder where she gets that?"

Beth said...

Great post. As the mother of 16 and 13 year old daughters, I can see this coming. I can relate to getting to the post office at two minutes to 6, only to realize that you had THIRTY TWO MINUTES TO SPARE. Sheesh, what was she thinking, rushing her along like that?