Preparing for College

Admissions Angsters

My post today is aimed more at parents of high school juniors and sophomores. For the most part, parents of seniors are over the hump. Admissions decisions are out now. However, for Moms and Dads of this year's senior class, there may still be some anxieties operating. Waitlists, enrollment decisions, visits, and financial aid negotiations might yet loom on the docket. So, there is angst in the springtime air.

Thinking back to my own Era of Angst, I recall my hopes for my son's and daughter's admissions chances rising and falling even between consecutive stoplights on a drive through the city. I was on a parental roller coaster, being seized at the throat by the whims of admissions committees, only occasionally being able to gasp a much needed breath of objectivity.

Go ahead and laugh, all you who have never gone through this. I call as substantiating witnesses any parent who has already or is currently enduring the college admissions/financial aid wash-rinse-and-dry cycle. It may appear to be amusing to those not involved, but take my word for it, it can be nerve wracking. On the brighter side it can also have dietary implications. In some extreme cases, weight loss can occur, which, for those of us in violation of those Nazi-like insurance company height-weight charts, can be a positive outcome.

We're talking about neurotic parents here. I wish that certain resources had been available to me back in my saw-tooth-chart mood days. One such resource that is available today for parents is The Neurotic Parent blog, written by J.D. Rothman. You may find some comfort (and laughs) there.

Lily Altavena, writing in Jacques Steinberg The Choice blog, talks about some suggestions solicited by Ms. Rothman from a panel of high school college counselors and admissions directors who offered solutions for neurotic parents and anxious applicants. Here are some highlights:

Don't stress out about summer.

[Regarding summer activities for high school students]:

... Shawn Abbott, the assistant vice president of admissions at New York University, said that university's summer program for high school students carried little weight for the admissions committee.

“Every student who completes an application will be a different person, so I can't say that I would recommend any kind of recipe or agenda for how a student should spend their summer," he said. “At N.Y.U., we have a summer program that is a revenue generating machine, and that's why that program exists.

Don't splurge on tutors, especially if they “guarantee admission."

The panelists questioned the validity of test prep and college counseling centers that guarantee admission to the nation's top universities. Ms. Rothman had even heard of a center that cost $25,000 ...

... The panelists, in fact, had plenty of stories of expensive test preparation centers: Heather Beveridge, the director of college counseling at the Nightingale-Bamford School, had seen the president of a test prep center modeling couture clothing in W magazine, while Ms. Clark received a letter from a tutor who had left his job as a corporate litigator to tutor in the Hamptons.

Know your application has been read.

Some parents find themselves anxious that their son or daughter's application has not been thoroughly evaluated. While N.Y.U. received more than 44,000 applications, Mr. Abbott said that a full-time staff of 25 read each application this year. Around 25 percent to 50 percent of those applications, he said, were read by two staff members.

“Every application that we received was read by at least one human," he said. “From Halloween to March 29th at 3 p.m., that is all we do, read applications, seven days a week, from 9 in the morning until 10 at night."

“Love thy safety."

In a separate discussion with The Choice, Ms. Rothman said her biggest piece of advice for neurotic parents was to “love thy safety." While her sons (one currently attends Duke, and the other will be attending Duke in the fall) embraced safety schools that accepted them early on, she remained anxious about the process.

“It's not worth worrying," she said. “It's O.K. to help your kid down the path, but being neurotic is not going to help you or your kid."


Perhaps one of the greatest chronicles of college admissions angst is the College Confidential discussion forum. Check out these posts if you think you don't have enough stomach acid pumping or if you're just looking for fellow sufferers along the college angst highway.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.