That parents are out of control about where their kids go to college is not news. If the Varsity Blues Sadness teaches us anything, it is that folks will cough up $500,000 to help Buffy and Scooter scam admissions officers at U.S.C. of all places. I have written repeatedly about who your kid is matters so much more than where your kid goes. This week I’d like to consider why parents feel out of control, hyper-focused, overly invested is where their kids matriculate. My readers may be surprised to learn that my view is sympathetic.
“My daughter took five AP classes in her senior year, was president of the senior class, had wonderful extra-curricular involvement, good grades and test scores, but she was rejected at Tufts, Emory, Princeton, Columbia, Washington University, Duke, and Yale. She ended up at the University of Maryland. We are heart broken.”
It’s easy to feel superior to this loving mom. “Why did we pay all that money to the private school?” she laments. “Our daughter could have attended the neighborhood public high school and still have ended up at Maryland.” Other folks who can’t afford the $280,000 tuition ($40K per year times seven years) could point to the ten-million-dollar sports facility, the small classes, the excellent faculty and not feel sorry for the mom or the daughter. You got a wonderful high school education and are attending one of America’s premier state schools. What is there to be upset about?
From this mom’s point of view, what there is to be upset about is feeling out of control, that there aren’t enough resources to go around, that if her kid isn’t admitted to USC the sky will fall, the world will end, we will all die a horrible death. Not to mention the Visigoths at the gate, civilization tottering on the brink, and the skyrocketing price of kreplach, and what would the neighbors say?
Thinking that sending your kid to a highly competitive school turns your kid into a highly competitive kid makes as much sense as putting this 66-year-old author into a Miami Dolphin uniform and expecting him to come off the field without the help of sponges and buckets. (As a college counselor, I pride myself on helping my students not only get in to college but also on their getting out. Being admitted is one step, being graduated is another.) I could get on the field, but how would I get off?
At first blush mom’s statements might remind readers of
- Kleptocrats taking baths in milk while the populace can not afford to feed their families.
- Wealthy folks purchasing 200 pairs of shoes with monies that could have been contributed to food banks
- a host of other heartlessly selfish acts at which any decent person would be outraged.
Scarcity and allocation of resources is one way to look at your life. Here’s a contrary view that we could communicate to our beloved children. We could help our kids understand that we think they're okay the way they are, that the world is a safe place, that there is enough to go around.
Further we could let them know that we believe in them, trust them, know that they’ll be fine even if they don’t—gasp!—go to USC.