Having decided some time ago that I would rather be happy than right, I make it a point to walk away from a myriad of potential kerfuffles. Especially with my wife. No pointless arguments for me, thank you very much. Staying married is my priority; happy wife, happy life. Just the same, I have to point out, that my life partner has a pronounced propensity for the obstinate end of the opinionated spectrum. For example, my wife believes that the 1995 Atlanta Braves had one of the greatest pitching staffs of the past hundred years. Can you imagine? What about the 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers for goodness sake? Is she kidding? Yet she continues to favor Greg Maddus, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz over Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Claude Osteen. When she starts pontificating about the Braves beating the Indians four games to two in the World Series 23 years ago, I don’t even mention the Dodgers defeating the Twins four games to three 53 years ago. I just go for a walk. Like I said, no point in debating. You can’t argue rationally with someone who has already made up her mind.
My policy of non-engagement notwithstanding, I was still pleased to come out ahead in an argument the other day. My wife and our youngest child were exchanging a few heated words. “A few” in the sense that there are “a few” stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Indeed, my wife and daughter had been screaming at one another for some 20 minutes. The conversation had devolved into name calling and generalized unpleasantness. The topic? College admissions. Specifically, application deadlines, essay topics, recommendations, and submission of test scores. Enough stress and anxiety for a neighborhood.
Having helped some 700 students apply to colleges over the past 34 years, I felt confident that my daughter’s process would have a successful outcome. The deadline was two months off; her essay was fine; her recommendations were complete; test scores had been sent. She had compiled an appropriate list of schools. I was complacent; my wife less so. The yelling continued: “Did you finish your essay?” “I told you ten times.” “Did you send in your essay?” “You can’t submit it yet.” “Has anyone proofread your essay?” The deadline is in eight weeks!” “But have you finished?” “I don’t have to send it in yet!” “What did you write about?” “I’m almost finished!” “I thought you were done!” “You never listen!”
Finally, my daughter raised her hand, palm facing her mother. “Mom, stop,” she said. “I have to talk to my educational consultant.
And walked over to where I was sitting quietly. Which was the high point of my marriage. I was able to reassure our 18-year-old that things would probably work out okay and that she and my wife should go get some ice cream.
But the point of this column is not to repeat bromides about gender roles. Nor am I returning to my recurrent–“incessant” is such an ugly word–about how children have to learn from their mistakes. I am certainly not blathering on about how I am always right when it comes to differing parenting styles; indeed, I have dropped the ball any number of times. I just happen to have some experience in college admissions. Which is why, in this case, I am able to communicate a helpful message: “everything is going to be okay.”
In order to determine that students almost invariably end up in the right college, I have followed tons of students. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Who you are matters more than where you go. Bright, motivated, organized students do well anywhere–Big Name College or North Cornstalk State.
- The reality of ability matters more than indications thereof. Admissions folks can tell who is exaggerating their accomplishments.
- Students must write their own essays. Admission folks can smell a personal statement written by a parent from across the room.
- Parents do not want to communicate that they know more about college lists and essay topics than their kids do.
- There is something to be said for handling the process of choosing and applying to colleges in an honest way.
- There is something to be said for calm.
As the madness escalates over the coming weeks–deadlines! essays! recommendations! test scores! Oh, my!–try to be mindful. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Helping your kids choose and apply to college is another opportunity to communicate to your children that you trust and respect them. Because “Mom, Stop! I have to go talk to my educational consultant” is just too much fun.