Even if you’re not a senior, no doubt you’ve heard someone grumbling about the college process. College, as any alum or representative will be quick to say, is all about independence and self-discovery, a time to begin thinking about life outside of your classroom and your childhood home. It’s only logical that your parents want a say in the matter, but is it too much? Members of the class of 2013 weigh in.
In a piece performed by a graduated member of the Speech team, a Jewish mother ensures her audience, “My daughter will enter her profession of choice. Which is medicine.” While a humorous nod to the parental pressures we face, this protagonist’s sentiment becomes more relevant than ever for upperclassmen as we visit dozens of colleges, imagining how we might fit into each social and academic setting for the next four years.
Of course, we cannot avoid making this decision alone: our parents or guardians do have a financial choice to make, and might have an idea of how far—or close—from home they want their babies to be studying. But the college application itself—the secretly-520-word essay, the 30 minute Edvard Grieg music submission, the Lin-worthy athletic supplement, or whatever our gifted student body can humbly showcase—should be a reflection of who the applicant is, not who others want him to be.
Yet the media’s often convoluted and contrived portrayals of the college application “process,” combined with our parents’ concern about our futures, can lead to some amusing, if at times exasperating, situations. When I was a freshman, my mother read articles in a Korean newspaper which explained the advantage of applying to college on an engineering or medicine track—especially if you are a female! Even this early in my high school career, she encouraged me to write a college application centered around being a woman in science. When I told her my true academic colors—Government and Jewish Studies—she was a bit baffled.
Although my mother has accepted my chosen path with pride, college admissions articles not written by admissions officers themselves continue to worry parents and students alike. Jaded by the increasing selectivity of some schools, parents and students have increasingly seen college admissions as a way to fit into boxes. They, and the media, prescribe “ways” to get into particular colleges: you can be a scholar-athlete and get recruited, you can be a “woman of science” and do valuable research, you can be a valedictorian and president of at least one semi-influential club or publication, you can be a genius.
But this model holds countless flaws. While the rising prominence of women in science is a commendable achievement, in the real world a pseudo-passionate female scientist who used science as a means to an end is unlikely to feel fulfilled. And the goal of college admissions is to find places that fit you, not a pre-determined version of you. It is so tempting to find a formula for admission to some colleges: without one, many parents feel lost about where to “guide” their children. But with a strong sense of identity, a student should not feel lost; the college application should become an opportunity for self-discovery.
The more we and our parents force college applications into a series of “if then” conditionals, the more stressful the college process gets. And that’s because most of us don’t fit into these “if then” cases. The objectification of the college process endangers the intellectual vitality in us all. Our parents’ persistent stress and input is really a symptom of a perverted (inter)national vision of American college admissions. The public perception of the process needs some medicine of its own. Our parents are after our best interests, but it’s time that admissions questions strayed away from “How does my child get in?” and instead, students can ask themselves “Will I be happy here?”
One of the biggest stressors that I’ve faced when applying to colleges is my parents. Their lack of knowledge when it comes to how exactly the college application process works, what colleges are looking for, and where I am in the process means that they attack with countless questions constantly. I’ve been told by my mother that if I don’t start e-mailing the teachers I want to write my rec for me, no teacher will and I wont go to college. Upon hearing this, I tell her that she has told me this 4 times already this week, and she rebuts that if she didn’t nag me, it would never be done. If she actually listened the other 4 times she told me to ask teachers for a rec, she’d know that I did, weeks ago. On top of that, she’s chosen schools for me based on majors she believes I will follow, and that are close by. Between telling me that I spend too much time doing theater instead of focusing on schoolwork, and mentioning that most people who try to be a professional actor end up washing dishes, she has decided that I want to be a theater major. She has a list of schools for me such as Drew and Sarah Lawrence, which apparently have great theater programs. I don’t believe in the past 3 years I have once mentioned that I will major in theater. Ever. That aside, I’ve told her repeatedly that I have no intention of staying in the area. The schools that I have decided upon all seem to not be good though. Apparently New Orleans is “too humid” for me to go to school there. No comment on the school, Tulane, no comment on the theater program (which is fantastic, if you were curious), just the comment that New Orleans is “too humid”, her way of saying “too far away”.
My biggest issue honestly is that if my mom actually listened to the answers I give her, like no, I don’t want to major in theater, or that I’m not staying in the area, or that I have teachers for a rec, and I’ve had them for weeks now, she’d be less stressed too. She wouldn’t go find colleges that I have no interest in, then get annoying that I don’t seem to like any college. She would know that me “focusing too much on theater” led me to have a role of power in theater, something that colleges pay attention to. Her caring is not an issue, its that she’s worrying and caring too much on her ideas for college. If she stopped doing an alternate college process as I am, maybe we’d both be a little less stressed.
When I entered Stuyvesant, I knew my parents had expectations. Stuyvesant has always been a brand name school, as emphasized by the Spectator’s Staff Editorial “This is Stuyvesant”. Our research resources are so influential that those of us who, like myself, are more inclined to the humanities don’t always seem to fit into the hierarchy of geniuses that Stuyvesant produces. Even though I have never showed an inclination for research, my parents have always cited my lack of drive towards creating an Intel project as a huge hole in my education, one that I would grow to regret as I started on a pre-professional path.
The college process has always been about looking into where I could receive the most intellectually stimulating environment, one where I could cultivate my strongest academic interests, as well as, perhaps, create a few new ones. I started short-listing schools last summer, and I, without considering names or rankings, simply put down those schools where I knew there was an emphasis on liberal arts and a very contemplative and academically rigorous environment.
When I showed my parents my shortlist, however, they immediately commented on my inability to create a list that reflected their interests in my education. They started adding schools, some of which I knew that I could not gain admission to, and some of which I wouldn’t want to go to even if I did get in. Instead of looking at these schools from my perspective, they cited these schools’ amazing research facilities and award winning faculty members as a reason for me to apply. A lot of the schools they added were well known, with the same sort of “brand name” status that Stuyvesant holds on the high school level.
After listening to all of their suggestions, I was stuck with a list of sixteen schools as I tried to balance my interests and please my parents. As those of us who are seniors know, our college advisors recommend applying to around ten schools, just so that we don’t die of stress as we wade through our AP-ridden schedules, standardized testing, and applications. I had no idea how I was going to work with the supplements of these sixteen schools.
Thankfully, I was able to sit my parents down and explain to them why I was applying to the schools I was. I managed to narrow down the list, incorporating schools that I knew I liked and schools that I had come to appreciate through my parents’ commentary. After talking to some of my friends, however, I realized that not all of us have parents who are easily willing to compromise.
For those of my peers who have experienced this complete takeover of their college process, down to the most basic questions of where to apply, I have only one thing to say to you: stand up for yourself! These next four years will be experienced by you, not your parents, and you are the only one who should be allowed to make the choices of what schools you are applying to.
As for parents who continue to take an overly solicitous role in the college process, I beg of you to listen to your children and work with their list of schools. Their perspective of their future should be the deciding factor of where they apply; if you don’t take that into account, not only the college process ,but also the next four years, will be a waste of your children’s time and your money.
In the fall, every high school senior’s nightmare consists of a website, lots of documents and decisions. College applications take up a lot of time and most of the time is spent worrying and being frustrated. Everyone says to not leave things until the last minute but this is hard not because of procrastination, but more due to the constant indecisiveness regarding which essay to submit, which college to apply to or whether to do early decision or not.
In these times, it’s not surprising that it is not only students who are stressed but parents are also very touchy. It is not surprising that these very same parents who helped their kids get into Stuyvesant are now once more involved in getting their kids into college. Naturally, parents think they know best and without meaning to, they impose their opinions on their children.
In some contrast to my peers, my parents left me alone to make choices of which colleges to make, provided that I had Harvard on the list. For many months, I looked up good liberal arts colleges on the East Coast and finally came up with what I thought was a substantial list. I showed my father and his first question was, “How many Ivies are on the list?”
Including my early decision choice, I had three. Suddenly the times when he told me it was “my choice” and “my decision” went out the window. He gave me an incredulous look and told me that my goal was to get into an Ivy League college. He told me limiting myself to three choices, was ridiculous, especially when one of them was Harvard. He demanded that I added two more at least.
Needless to say, my worries were no longer on an Ivy. I wanted to find a safety that I would not mind going to. This sudden change in mind did not fly well. In a fit of anger, I showed him the statistics that the school website has so helpfully provided and it was only after seeing my chances of getting into the schools that he told me four Ivies were fine, rather than the five he had wanted.
With that dilemma put away for the time being, my attention turned to my essay. I wrote three different copies, each about a different subject, and showed it to him. Immediately he rejected two and demanded that I used the one I was least comfortable with. He criticized my essays, not helping with the despair I already felt. I am currently still debating between two essays, one of which is the one he recommended. Now my time is consumed with the mad dash to find the “perfect” essay to represent me in the best light.
As the early decision deadline is nearing, the last thing I need would be pressure from my parents. I have already made the majority of my decisions, and even though I have let him push me over regarding certain colleges, I know that in the end, I would be the one going to college. When I submit all my essays and supplements, I know that my decision would ultimately reflect both what I want and my parent’s dreams for me.
Parents may feel the need to control every aspect of the application, but this is the time for them to learn to let us learn to walk by ourselves. In the future, we will be making our own choices and college applications should be the beginning of many to come.