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listing superb ones.
That was when students began to panic. Seeing
colleges turn down fully qualified applicants for no
apparent reason except that there were too many
fully qualified applicants, students began to see the
admissions process as a game of luck. To increase
their odds of winning, they started doubling or
tripling the number of applications they submitted.
This made college admissions committees crazy
because the more applications they got, the less sure
they were about whom to admit.
“Which brings us,” the New York counselor
said, “to where we are today, which is that everyone,
almost, is pretty much consistently hysterical.”
No one more so than parents. In fact, the
conference program listed three panel discussions
on how to deal with anxious parents. I picked
“Parents: the Good, the Bad and the Hysterical.”
By the time I got there, they had evidently finished
with the “good” part and were jumping back
and forth between “bad” and “hysterical.” One
admissions director recounted a conversation he
had had with an applicant. When asked howmany
colleges he was applying to, the student replied, “I’m
applying to three colleges; my dad’s applying to six.”
Next there was a recounting of e-mails from parents to
directors of admissions: One mother expressed anxiety about
what her daughter will eat; another sent in her laundry list of
questions about the laundry service; a third mother wanted a
rating of the air quality in dormitories; a fourth inquired about
the availability of a single room for her son who had suffered a
football injury.
A high school counselor, standing to ask a question of the
panel, sheepishly admitted to being a parent herself. I began
to wonder why only mothers were being singled out. Was
there some gender
stereotyping going
on here? Or were
female parents more
obnoxious than their
male counterparts?
While I was cogitating
on this, a woman in
the back of the room
told a father story. She
was a college counselor
in a high school and
described a particularly
pesky father who was
stalking her. He managed to track her down in a hospital
an hour after she was wheeled out of a delivery room. “He
wanted to talk about his daughter’s SAT scores,” she said.
The audience guffawed, but I got up and left. I wasn’t
offended so much as worried. There I was in Long Beach,
doing nothing. I hadn’t sent e-mails to admissions directors or
stalked a single high school counselor. I didn’t even know the
name of my daughter’s counselor.
I had allowed myself to think that helping my daughter
apply to college was going to be a smooth and quick
operation. In fact, it was beginning to seem a bit like the war
in Iraq: a protracted mission with no clear plan.
Who needs experts?
Back in the family room, daughter Kate was online
investigating colleges. She was very clear about her academic
priorities: a great international relations program (she loved
history and had become a political junkie) and an even better
studio arts program (she was an accomplished artist). Having
spent two and a half years in a huge public, highly diverse,
urban high school in Los Angeles, she wanted to chuck
large and public but was determined to hang on to urban
and diverse. She liked the idea of old buildings nestled in
beautiful surroundings, walking distance from swank shops,
magnificent museums, renowned restaurants. The emerging
profile was that of a small, private liberal arts college located in
a city, preferably on the east coast. Middlebury inManhattan,
maybe? Williams inWashington?
While Kate took virtual tours of classrooms and
dormitories, I was doing my best to remain calm, having
just discovered that she didn’t know her college counselor
either. She was a senior and an honors student taking a slew
of Advanced Placement classes, which would suggest she was
eligible for college counseling. But two counselors in a school
with 3,800 students didn’t have time to do much counseling.
They had sent home with each senior a package of college-
application materials and instructions on how to fill them
out. One assignment was to write a recommendation about
yourself “from the point of view of your counselor.”This did
not bode well.
“You need a professional,” my husband’s friend David
told me. He had a friend who had talked her way into college
and, realizing she had a marketable talent, had since become
a private admissions counselor. Now she helped other
Next fall, Kate, the writer’s daughter, will enter Connecticut College, where she expects to
major in studio arts and international relations.
Connecticut College
When asked how
many colleges he
was applying to, one
student said, “I’m
applying to three
colleges; my dad’s
applying to six.”