Premature College Stress – Four Years Too Soon

October 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Here’s the PDF file that stressed me out

With all the Back-To-School nights over and our kids settled into school and their extra-curricular activities, I should be able to relax.  September madness is over, right?  I thought so, until I went to “Freshman Parent Night” at my son’s new high school last week.  I thought it was going to be a presentation on easing our kids through the transition from middle school to the big leagues of high school.  And mostly it was.  Until they put the PDF file of the “College Handbook” up on the screen.

Instantaneously, I felt a lurch in my stomach.  You know that feeling when you thought you had everything under control and then someone throws that curveball at you when you weren’t looking or ready?  College handbook?  Are they kidding? Didn’t I just wean this kid?!

They weren’t trying to scare us or stress us out, but guess what?  They did!  They told us to look through the handbook when we had a chance at home.  Well, my chance came the minute I got home that night.  I rushed to my laptop and quickly pulled up the school’s website so I could click on that PDF file.  It was more than I ever imagined – 24 pages! The handbook outlines all the tests, deadlines, advice, etc. that a high schooler needs to know who intends to apply for college.  Granted, most of the important dates and exams are not until junior year.  So, I’ve got a good two years until the real panic sets in.

But still, I continued to think about that PDF file days later.  I have several friends who have already experienced the college application process with their own kids.  I’ve heard everything from, “it was the most intense year we’ve ever had” to “it wasn’t that bad at all. There’s a school for everyone.”  And then they start piling on the advice:  Don’t let them take too many AP classes.  Hire a college consultant.  Register for SAT review courses.  I immediately start taking mental notes and realize my pulse has gone into overdrive.

Perhaps I’m simply freaking out because I am now flashing back to my own teenage years, when I had to apply to college.  I recall agonizing over my S.A.T. scores and the dreaded college essay, unsure of who or what to write about.  I applied to seven different schools and I think at least four of them required unique essays on different subjects.  For one school, I had to write about my hero.  I think I chose Neil Armstrong, even though I had no interest whatsoever in space or science. Another school wanted me to write about my leadership skills.  I was a shy teenage girl who had two extra-curricular activities – Kickline squad and writing for the school newspaper.  I was neither captain nor editor-in-chief.  That essay obviously demanded huge amounts of exaggeration.

The application process was also long and arduous back then. There was no “common app” as there is now.  And, it was 1982.  I had to individually type each application with a typewriter.  I think I went through four bottles of “White-Out” before I was finished.

The good news is that my son’s high school claims that 100% of the graduating seniors are accepted into colleges.  100%!  Now, those are pretty good odds.  But, do 100% of those students go to their 1st or 2nd choice colleges or are they ending up at their “safe schools?”  Truth be known, I ended up at my safe school and you know what?  Best four years I could have ever asked for.  And, I was accepted by one of my “reach” schools, but still chose to go to the safe one. The sad fact is that if I were applying to my safe school today, I don’t know if I’d get in.  These days, college admissions are so competitive, it’s like threading a rope through the eye of a needle.  Not everything or everyone can fit.

What does that mean for the college application process?  It means you better be (or appear to be) pretty damn special.  I’ve heard that colleges don’t just want strong grades and excellent test scores.  They want community service (and no, those teen tour trips to Hawaii and Europe with a community service component don’t count.  The colleges are on to you there).  The only community service I did as a high schooler was to help a little old lady across the street once.  Really.  And, the colleges also want your high schooler to show a passion and commitment for something, whether it’s a musical instrument or a sport.  I was on kickline for two years.  Not exactly screaming passion or commitment.  Oh and did I mention I was too fearful to try out for the tennis team?

I’ve finally calmed down a little since that PDF file flashed in front of me.  Because I realized I’m not the one who will be applying to college.  I’m the one who has to remain centered and supportive, while my son endures the process. He’s already concerned about applying to college so it’s my job to help him stay focused on the day-to-day.  We don’t know what the future has in store for him, and whether he goes to his reach school, his safe school, or takes a gap year, I know we’ll get through it, with or without that PDF file.

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Top Mommy Blogs.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

juliab October 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Calm down OHBoyMom and take a deep breath. All those crazy yenta stage moms that push their kids to do anything and everything so it will “look good” on their applications should be lined up and forced to watch a “Jersey Shore” marathon. As the mom of a college sophomore, one that will enter college this fall and one next fall, I can honestly tell you that the idea of college sparks its own fire in each kid. And these kids all know what is most important at any given moment: which SAT test center is most popular, which AP’s have the highest pass/fail rate, which schools are looking for what types of extra curriculars. My first son, even with a trailer full of learning issues still got into 4 schools and is happily learning away. My second, with SAT scores and a resume that makes me feel like a moron, will too! And my third, the musical genius, will apply to an entirely different set of schools with an entirely different set of rules. Each child IS special and there is a school for every single one of them. When you live alongside your child and not THROUGH him/her like some of these moms, you are able to be a wonderful source of support and not just a nagging shrew praying to be able to announce reputable college acceptances at the next mah jongg game. Love ya girl!


ohboymom October 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Posting this to my blog was worth it just so I could receive a comment like yours! I love your hilarious take on the stage moms and I equally love your wise advice — sooo true about living alongside our kids, despite the pressure to be a helicopter mom. Oh and if you ever catch me bragging at a mah jongg game, please shoot me.:) xoxo


Janine Huldie October 1, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Oh I do remember the college application process even though it was almost 20 year sago and I too hated every minute of it. I also remember the stress from the SATs and the my scores not being good enough. I also had to type my letters all out on a typewriter too. So I could very relate to your ordeal. And my girls are only 3 years old and 2 years old, but hope to god that time doesn’t come too quickly, because I too am not looking forward to this process at all. So my heart is with you on this one.


ohboymom October 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Thanks Janine — glad to know you could relate to those days of typewriters! And yes, you’ve definitely got time before the college worry sets in — enjoy these early years of innocence where the stresses of homework, activities, and tests are still years away!


Roshni October 2, 2012 at 6:13 am

eeps!! Totally hyperventilating already….then I realized that you are going to be blogging all about it, right?! So, I’m totally prepared now! 😀


ohboymom October 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Oh yes, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to blog about as the process continues…stay tuned!


Keith K. Moffitt June 20, 2016 at 2:32 am

I agree that The college application is definitely an essential element of the college admission process.Our whole career depends on this process. But we should not take stress regarding this. If you still feel stressed by the college admission process, consider the three bits of wisdom below. They may change your perspective on the whole process and put your mind at ease, at least until the next deadline you have to meet rolls around.

You are the customer. You call the shots: Colleges have a strange business model. Their admissions officers spend the fall visiting high schools, trying to convince students to apply to their college. Then they spend the winter rejecting a good portion of those same students they recruited. Can you think of another business that makes you apply to spend $150,000 at their store?

The truth is, colleges need students more than students need colleges. They have a staff to pay and a campus to maintain. They have a reputation to uphold and donors to keep happy. They need you for the contributions you can make to the campus community, the tuition money you will pay and future donations you will make to the endowment. If they reject you, then they don’t deserve your business.

Admissions officers want to admit you: You may have a vision in your head of what a typical admissions officer is like: pretentious, judgmental, someone who casts down judgment from on high, like a sadistic Roman emperor. They’re nothing like that. In fact, admissions officers can be some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They are regular people who entered the field because they like students and want to help their school build a great class. There is no reason to be intimidated by them.

Admissions officers read every application thoroughly and look for reasons to admit applicants, not reasons to reject them. They will read your admissions essay twice and consider how it complements the rest of your application. They’re not there to put you down. They’re there to give your application a fair shake.

Your second-choice college is probably as good of a fit as your first choice: You will be disappointed if you get rejected from your first-choice school, but your second and third-choice schools are probably as good of a fit for you, if not a better one. You won’t have the same exact student experience, but you will have most of the same opportunities available to you. That’s because the most important part of your education is you. Your education is 20 percent what your school offers and 80 percent what you make of it.

It’s also not worth getting into your “reach” school if you are going to struggle with the academic workload. The most important part of college is growing as a person and graduating with a degree. Failing out is an expensive mistake – if only for the tuition money. At the College A Team, we would rather see a student graduate with honors from a mid-level, Tier 1 liberal arts school than struggle for four years at an Ivy League school. Forget the school that rejected you and go ahead and be an important part of a school that did want you. Four years from now, you’ll be happy you did.



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