Tuesday, March 19, 2019

When the current college acceptance scandal broke out last week, I was fascinated to learn how far some parents would go to get their children admitted to the school of their choice. However, I was not surprised - after all, US college admission can only be charitably described as some sort of a "game of flux" where the rules are changing every year stressing admissions officers, students, and parents. One rule does not change, however - there are plenty of legal "side doors" in elite colleges to admit children of alumni, children of rich donors, and student athletes. When you also add to this well-intentioned and worthwhile attempts to recruit first generation students (whose parents did not go to college) and students from underrepresented groups, there are not a whole lot of spots left for students like Smarty or many kids like her - kids who are simply good students with good test scores, who don't earn athletic or musical awards and don't start their own businesses and charities at 12, students who don't have parents with connections to university or business labs and therefore to internship opportunities and research papers written in high school.
Overall, I think that American college admission system is almost as broken as US Healthcare. It starts with an idea that everyone should go to college despite the fact that only about third of US high school graduates are ready for college. The college costs continue to rise burdening students and their families. Many students get college loans and then don't graduate (graduation rate is under 60% for undergraduate students). And on the achieving end, kids are stressed out and abused by long hours of homework and incessant running from one activity to another to "beef up" their college applications.
Smarty still naively believes that getting good grades and being good at test taking will be enough to get her into a "good school". What we are trying to tell her that what she really needs is to develop a passion for what she wants to do. Both my husband and I believe that having a purpose and pursuing it trumps killing yourself for grades and chasing elite admissions. Also, being "upper middle class" family, we cannot expect an elite school offering Smarty a nice chunk of money to come to them. There are also other considerations - Smarty will graduate at 16, and we are not entirely sure that she will be ready to live on her own. Right now her "dream college" is still Stanford, mostly because it is so close to home, and she is also interested in UC system. When these conversations come up, I gently remind her that she still has at least three years to grow and change before she needs to seriously decide which colleges to apply tp, and right now she should just enjoy learning and trying new things. And she does - she is taking a 6-week engineering elective right now, and she told me in one of our rambling conversations that we have on our walks that she wants to take Physics in high school, after all - not because she wants to become an engineer, but because she sees more clearly now how biological and chemistry concepts "actually have a real shape in a real world". This is very reassuring to me, and I hope that Smarty will continue to grow, learn, and find her own place in the world, rigged games or not.

Your Turn

What do you think of US college admissions process?


Min Erva said...

I think of it as a lottery system where the lucky few will get in. But that doesn't change the fact that I encourage K to stay curious and be a life-long learner.

Kids with good grades and good scores will be recruited by colleges that aren't top 10 but just as good. They will offer scholarships because they want best students and there are plenty of those kids who didn't get into Ivy Leagues. Look for honors programs in areas of her interest and she will find kids like her.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

This current scandal has been fascinating, and more than a little disheartening. I'm sure Smarty will find her passion and her school though.

Ticia said...

I wasn't too surprised to see the scandal break. It's a sad state of affairs in the college world right now, and we've been talking with our kids about going to the school that fits what they want to do, not what makes us happy.