At a recent conference in New Orleans I had the mixed pleasure of reconnecting with an old college friend who had apparently never heard of "never mix, never worry." I learned from colleagues that Stacie had started with Kahlua and coffee at lunch and had slurped an entire bottle of Bordeaux at dinner. When she and I took a walk in the French Quarter she was on her third "Hurricane." Note that said concoction has six ounces of alcohol in each glass. Stacie's blood alcohol level had long since exceeded the legal limit. For a regiment.

Before Stacie started slurring her words to the point of unintelligibility, we caught up a bit. I learned that Stacie's father had died in his early 50s from cirrhosis of the liver. Stacie shared that the Department of Child Protective Services was trying to place her children in foster care, but that her attorneys were fighting hard to keep the kids with her. Her other attorney was working to have Stacie's driver's license reinstated and was also working on her criminal court issues. Apparently, the state has a dim view of driving drunk with a ten-year-old and a six-year-old in the backseat. Something about "reckless endangerment."

Stacie defined herself as a "high-functioning" alcoholic. Not to be judgmental, but I only perceived half that term was applicable and certainly not the "functioning" part. Still, she did earn a pile of money in her work as a consultant--enough to pay a legion of attorneys certainly as well as private school for the kids. So who am I to say?

Feeling more than caught up, I excused myself without waiting for Stacie to consume more alcohol. I wanted to get up early to put in a few miles before the conference started at 8:00 am. So it wasn't until the next day that I learned of Stacie, unable to walk, pissing herself in the lobby before being carried back to her room the night before.

But enough about a 50-year-old woman trying to take off her pants and urinate in the lobby of a four-star hotel. There is enough information available elsewhere about the consequences and costs of alcoholism. Preventable deaths annually: 88,000. Lost productivity in the United States in 2010: $249,000,000,000. Number of children 15 and younger who have had an alcoholic drink: over 35%. (Click Here for Link to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism from which these statistics were taken.) No, my musings this week, believe it or not, regard college admissions.

Specifically, that there is a tremendous amount of misinformation regarding the process. Over the course of our conversation, Stacie must have asked me five times if I would have a drink. I declined, politely. She insisted. I declined humorously. She escalated. I said "no thank you" and gave her the "teacher look." At 60 years of age, I don't need anyone telling me when or whether to have a drink. And as an old curmudgeonly guy, I don't care much what anyone thinks. But it interesting to observe just how many folks in the neighborhood felt strongly that I should drink alcohol. Not just Stacie, but pretty much everybody sincerely wanted me to drink. Every employee of every bar "advised" me to have some alcohol. It wasn't just that they made their living selling the stuff. There was the sense of a conversation about politics or religion. Stacie and her collaborators desperately wanted to convert me to imbibe.

So what does my conversion have to do with your kids and the process of choosing and applying to colleges?

Where the sum total of misinformation is equally voluminous?

Consider the following propositions every one of which is false: Every child admitted to a highly competitive college has contributed hundreds of community service hours. Every child admitted to a highly competitive college is an exceptional athlete. Every child admitted to a highly competitive college has taken second year calculus in high school. Every child admitted to college has SAT scores in the 99th percentile. Every child admitted to a highly competitive college "knows someone," an influential person connected to the college who has written a letter of recommendation.

Yet, if you listen to the misinformed squawking in high school parking lots, you might believe any of the above absurdities or worse. You might even believe that being admitted to a highly competitive college is necessarily in the best interests of your child.

Loving parents must stand up for their kids; sensible parents must protect their kids from harmful rumors; decent parents must help their kids understand that who you are matters more than where you go.

Most importantly, good parents must help their children understand what the process of choosing and applying to college should be. Picking schools should be a time of self-discovery. Writing essays should allow an opportunity to look inward and think deeply.

The alternative, focusing only on the name brand of the target college and ignoring the opportunity to enjoy the process, could be enough to drive you to drink.

4 thoughts on “Advice

  1. Joan Eisenstodt

    I’d written, in a past blog, about alcohol at meetings and events. The discussion on the blog site – – goes to the point of whether or not there should be responsibility on the part of conference or event organizers around alcohol service. I’ve posted a link to your blog, David, because it addresses the issues.

    Not knowing how much alcohol was served – either ‘hosted’ or cash or by ticket – during the conference, I wonder if at that conference too there was little regard or notice (“please drink responsibly” signs on bars? a culture where the staff of the sponsoring organization was aware of the dangers?) to those attending. Thank you for what you wrote.

  2. Martin

    Best recent movie I’ve seen on the college admissions process is “Me, Earle, and the Dying Girl”. Takes a high school senior through the whole process of selecting a college and applying for admission, plus a whole bunch of other stuff but it would be a spoiler to tell the story with the surprise ending. Highly recommended! I think he may even have had Altshuler as his admissions counselor but they didn’t show that part that I recall.

    1. Martin

      Some critics play up the love story part but I think that was just a hook. It’s really about college admissions, what works and what doesn’t.


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