Preparing for College

A highly opinionated blog about the college admissions process

No, I’m not Dave Barry, the former and funny Miami Herald columnist and author, or the other Dave Berry, the English pop singer whose big hit was The Crying Game. I’m merely a crusty veteran of the college admissions wars. I’ve been down in the trenches for 20 twenty-some years, as both a parent of college applicants and as an independent admissions counselor. Across those two decades, I have seen some amazing—and disturbing—trends develop, some of which have managed to work their way into our culture, for better or worse. This blog is my opportunity to blow off (blog off, if you will) some of my steam about these trends . . . and other college-related items.

I’m blessed to have such a high-profile venue from which to pontificate (or bloviate, as some of you will say). “Venue” can be defined as the locality where a crime is committed or a cause of action occurs. I prefer the latter half of that definition, although there will be those who judge my words as the former part. Regardless, I plan to say what’s on my mind. You can always comment, of course. So, I’ll get straight to it...


I don’t like what today’s college admissions process is doing to students and parents. It’s become a kind of crying game, itself. Want a quick sample? Check out Parents Who Rat Out "Competitor" Applicants on the College Confidential forum.

Remember cheerleader Mom, Wanda Holloway? In 1991, Wanda Holloway asked her brother-in-law to hire a hitman to kill the mother of a girl who was competing with her daughter for a spot on the same Texas cheerleading squad. Holloway wanted the mother killed because she determined the competing girl would be so upset by the murder of her mother that she would drop out of the competition. Both girls were thirteen at the time of the plot. How long before we see The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Harvard-Applicant-Slandering Dad, starring Mel Gibson? Don’t laugh.

She became known as the "Texas-Cheerleader-Murdering-Mom" and her story spawned two TV movies including The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, starring Holly Hunter.

I’m tempted to write about my good ol’ daze, when I applied to college, you know, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. But I won’t. I don’t wonder as much about how bad things are now as I do about what they will be like five or ten years from now. Can it get any worse? You bet it can.

I could blame all this on the greediness of Western Culture, but some of my most surprising encounters with the win-at-any-cost mindset have been with Asian and Asian-Indian students and parents. The families I’m speaking of believed that there was no way for their sons and daughters to become successful and respected unless they had that vaunted Ivy sheen. As we all should know, this simply isn’t true.

The big tip-off usually comes when I hear from the applicant and/or parents and the message goes something like, “We’ve been considering Stanford SCEA.” We? Apparently, the whole family wants to go to college. It really is Groupthink, though. What ever happened to self-determination? Sometimes it seems to be “He who pays the bursar calls the tune.”

In any case, the win-at-all-costs/”You ain’t nothin’ if you ain’t Ivy” element of today’s college admissions scene is frightening to me. The long-range side effects of this approach remain to be seen. Or, perhaps the tip of the iceberg is in sight. What do you think?

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