Dianne Williamson: College admissions mania ill-advised
When I was a senior in high school, I posed one of the cruelest questions ever to my parents.
“So,” I asked, one night at the dinner table. “How much money have you saved for my college education?”
The question was mean because I knew full well they had saved nothing for my college education.
My parents worked hard to provide a nice life for their kids, but extra dough for college wasn’t in the cards.
The guilt on their faces when they revealed what I already knew haunts me still. So why did I do it? Well, most of my classmates at Notre Dame Academy were applying to elite schools that their well-heeled parents would pay for.
And I was a selfish 17-year-old who wanted to stick it to mom and dad; never underestimate the eagerness of a teenager to embarrass her parents.
I ended up at state colleges and turned out fine. Would I have become a better writer had I gone to Harvard? Doubtful. Would I be working at The Washington Post had I attended Georgetown? Who cares? I’m happy and have no complaints. Not many, anyway.
This is the period, late March to early April, when college seniors wait breathlessly by the mailbox — or their email accounts — to learn what many consider the decision that will affect the rest of their lives.
If they’ve applied to elite colleges, an estimated 70 to 95 percent of them will be crushed when they hear the news: they’ve been rejected — they’re not (fill-in-the-school’s name) material.
And if the kids are dejected, consider the parents. Sure, they want the best for their offspring. But they also consider their children’s college success a reflection on themselves and their child-rearing skills.
Lots of them love the bragging rights; Facebook is already filling up with college acceptance announcements from boastful parents.
This time of year, I wish I could tell these kids that where they go to college won’t matter much a decade from now. I’d like to share my long-held belief that the best thing about an Ivy League education is all those classmates with summer homes. I’d like to point out that college is what you make it. Good and bad professors can be found at the best and the worst of schools.
While the application process has always been grueling, the frenzy for acceptance to the Ivy Leagues is crazier and more competitive than ever before. The daughter of a friend is a high school freshman who already has her heart set on Yale, so mom is seeking any tips that will give her child a leg up.
A relative’s son is a sophomore; he’s urging him to volunteer for some unique cause because “we’ve heard that colleges like that sort of thing.” These days, it’s not unusual for kids to take SAT prep courses and hire costly college admission consultants.
Now comes a provocative new book, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania” by award-winning New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. In it, Bruni argues that a degree from a prestigious college is neither a requirement nor a harbinger of success, that colleges have become cutthroat businesses, that the craze to get accepted does little but leave families saddled with debt.
“The amount of importance that parents and kids seem to be attaching to the selectiveness of where they went to school did not seem to me to jibe at all with the ingredients of success as manifest in the people I’ve met who were successful and even more to the point content,” he said, in a recent CNN interview. “And so I felt like that contradiction really needed to be pointed out in a bold way.”
Parents, it’s worth checking out. And I wish I could apologize to my own, for behaving like a brat.
Contact Dianne Williamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.