One of my fears is that I will disappoint my daughters by not helping them prepare adequately for college. I’m not talking about helping them with homework. I’m referring to the college search and application process. Going to college these days is a LOT different than it was when I applied in 1975.
I’ll be honest: for a few of us so very fortunate to have successful (and willing) parents, the college process boiled down to where we wanted to go, as well as where we could be admitted. Most people asked me back then, “Where do you want to go?” not “Where do you think you can get in?”
I was not a great student, nor was I skilled at taking standardized tests. No colleges were pining after me, though Marquette University was somewhat interested in me because I was a decent student at a Catholic prep school.
I grew up in Oklahoma, one of six kids and knew pretty early in high school that I wanted to go to college in the South. Maybe it was the SEC football. Nothing against OU or OSU, but I was set on heading south. My parents let me figure it out.
I took tennis lessons in Tulsa from a girl three years older than I who went to Vanderbilt and partly because I had a crush on her, I set my sights (and yearnings) on Commodore-land. I applied early admission and was declined. I then embarked on a marketing campaign that included weekly calls to the Dean’s Office. I was accepted during the regular admission cycle and my parents were genuinely happy for me. I arrived in Nashville in August 1975 with a tuition check from Dad in my pocket. I was one lucky guy!
I recount this tale to say that it is sad for me now to experience through our daughter (and her friends) that the college admission process today is completely devoid of the goofy naivety that marked my personal experience. Our daughter is a far better student now as a Junior than I ever was in high school and her college quest should be one of excitement and self-discovery — and it may yet be — but it will also be stressful.
As Robert Franek of the Princeton Review stated in 2011 at a local Charlotte high school college night – we were in attendance – “It’s never been easier to get into college and it’s never been harder to get into college.” He meant that with so many students applying to the same schools year after year, the admissions criteria at those institutions become increasingly stringent and as a result, many great and deserving kids are turned away. Conversely, many great and wonderful colleges do exist and are almost begging for applicants, but they are almost invisible to many students.
My job is to help make the college application process as comfortable — financially and otherwise — as possible and see if it might even be funny on occasion. To do that, we will need a plan.