College Application Postmortem.

College Application Postmortem. C and L and I spent some time talking about the whole college application process now that it is behind us, and I jotted down some notes. Mostly I did this for myself to remind me of things to think about in the future, but maybe someone else will get something out of this. Your mileage may vary — I am generalizing from a sample of 1 with incomplete information!

  • Remember above all — the decision about where to go to college really doesn’t matter. Life will be fine no matter where you go. Kids put enough stress on themselves, as parents we tried to relax the situation and not accentuate the stress. And I believe it really doesn’t matter — there are great people and great opportunities everywhere, it is all what you make of it. My alma mater, Ohio State, is not the most prestigious institution on the planet (excepting the football team!), but my life has been fine.
  • Remember again — it really doesn’t matter. I transferred, C transferred, my sister transferred, my brother-in-law transferred, … In our family, odds are you will change your mind anyway, and transferring is a very possible thing to do. So don’t kill yourself worrying about where you go as a freshman — if it is not right, you can change.
  • The decisions the schools make are semi-random. They are a function of your own application, but also a lot of other factors you can’t control. Each school is looking for a particular demographic mix — gender balance, geography balance, interest balance, etc etc etc. And each school is different and you can’t know everything the school is looking for. And each admissions officer at each school has different goals and targets. So don’t get too keyed up about any individual school and don’t get too whipsawed by any single decision.
  • As parents, remember — it is not your decision. You provide support and help, assistance as asked, but you don’t get to decide. You may have opinions, but largely keep them to yourself, and provide only very soft guidance when asked. You don’t have to live with the decision every day, your child does.
  • Visit the schools during the week when they are in session. It is easy and tempting to visit during natural vacation times, but all you see are the buildings and you don’t get a real feel for the school. Go during the week (not Fridays, some schools are basically out fridays), go attend classes, talk to everyone you meet.
  • Make it hard for the school to say no. Without being annoying, make sure they have a thick file on you. Visit early. Interview at every chance. Ask for intros to people in departments of interest, and talk with them (ccing the admissions department). You can’t do this with every school obviously but you can do it with a couple of schools maybe. or at least one.
  • Your child will want to have a couple activities in which they have some real depth and commitment outside of school, but you don’t need to start developing these when they are 4. Late middle school/high school is plenty of time. For liz it was varsity volleyball and outdoors, and these are really things that started in 8th/9th grade for her. You don’t need to worry if your 5th grader doesn’t have a national ranking in paintball yet. Tho obviously if your child has a deep passion early that is ok, but don’t panic if they don’t. It will come.
  • SAT Scores. An admissions officer at Harvey Mudd said this best — beyond a certain level of achievement, they don’t care what the scores are. The college wants to know that the student can handle the work and that may mean an sat score of 600 or 650. an 800 is wonderful but it may not have that much incremental advantage. Again encourage your child not to stress if they got a score that is not as high as they would like, it may not matter.
  • SAT Math scores. C and I generally are not fans of pushing kids ahead a year in school as it makes it tough for them socially. But pushing ahead a year in math only is easy to do, and it makes your child stand out on SAT and SAT II scores. Algebra and Algebra II are courses that are relatively easy to push a year ahead on — within your school, or outside of the school — Johns Hopkins for instance has a good distance learning program. This may not be for everyone, not every kid is a math wonk, but if your child has some aptitude, I’d consider it.
  • Encourage your child to read like a madman. Buy them lots of books, whatever will engage their interest — while our kids have an allowance, I have never made them pay for books or magazines, I buy any and all of those that they want. Don’t worry if it is pulp science fiction, comic books, whatever. Once they develop the habit it will grow and has a huge impact on test scores and other areas.
  • Finally, remember again it doesn’t matter that much, everything will be fine no matter the outcome. Despite the stress of the situation and the potential for conflict, we became closer during the search and had a lot of fun, so it was a good good outcome.