My daughter reclines comfortably on the sofa doing her homework as I prowl around her, ready to pounce with another suggestion or pointed comment about what she should be doing right now to make her college applications stronger. But she is in 10th grade and won’t be doing those things for another year and a half.
Having just gone through the grueling get-into-college journey with my older daughter, I learned much about the way the college admissions industry works — the tests, the test prep, the admissions offices, the many resources out there, and the huge amounts of money the system can suck out of you. I went to workshops and presentations, read books, prowled the internet, and spoke to lots of people. Though it worked out fine for my firstborn, I know I could manage it so much better with my younger progeny if she would only let me.
Sometimes her getting into college feels like the most important thing I will help her with for the next couple of years. I’ve learned that the competitive schools are only getting harder to get into and that average SAT scores only seem to be going up. Each year it appears more applications are submitted and the pressure escalates.
There is also the issue of opportunity. My high-schooler is young enough to have her “resume” shaped and sculpted a bit, giving her a more compelling narrative when admissions officers view her life through a pile of papers and numbers — but only if we start now.
Then I look at her, 16 years old and doing pretty well. She plays sports, bakes like a pro, has a really nice bunch of friends she enjoys hanging with, and she’s doing okay in school. Perhaps most importantly, she has a good heart and mostly does the right thing. All that stuff is important and so precious to me, but it isn’t going to get her into a good school.
If I believe that where she goes to college is the most important factor determining her success and happiness in adult life, then I must push her, push her more, and keep pushing her, whispering “college, college, college” every morning when I wake her and every evening when I say good night.
If, on the other hand, I’m just caught up with the stampeding parents, focused on my daughter’s college prospects because everyone tells me I should be, and it is all the mothers and fathers talk about, then I better step back and think this whole process through.
My girl is a sophomore in high school and still needs guidance, supervision and a parent to help her learn to drive, negotiate peer pressure, do homework, and tackle all the situations she faces each day. If I keep my focus on her as a person, developing a moral center and an understanding of who she is and what she wants, then wherever she goes to college she’ll be prepared to get the most out of the experience, and the rest of her life.
Maybe I’m the one who has to shut my ears to the constant whispers so she can just be a kid for a couple more precious years.