TreadmillFirst, let me say that I like to start my day at the gym. In order to do that and get into my office early enough to take East Coast and international calls, I have to get up pretty early. Which, by the way, is fine with me. I have always loved the quiet peaceful moments of pre-dawn solitude. It’s a great time to set your thought for the day, organize your activities, and your daily destiny. Also, my history of exercise comes from my very serious dance training and my children’s athletic training. Serious is the key word. You stay focused. You don’t talk and you have a goal. So it came somewhat of a surprise when I started going to the gym, that some people consider exercise their social time. The conversations get louder as the exercise makes them more breathless and it’s very hard not to overhear what I consider to be their private discussions. Of course the answer to that is my Ipod earphones but yesterday I didn’t have it with me. So I had no choice but to listen. And it was a very interesting conversation.

Three women were discussing their children’s college applications. Two were on the treadmill and one was “hanging out.” Two daughter’s were in different private schools and one son was in the local public school. The mother of the son was lamenting that he was such a procrastinator that he never finished his applications and therefore only applied to half the schools to which they had planned to have him apply. One of the girls’ mothers proudly stated that her daughter had started planning for college before she was out of middle school. She attended a number of summer enrichment programs in preparation for the “big year” and had applied to no fewer than 14 schools! The third mother was very quiet. She increased her treadmill speed and seemed to want to avoid participating in the conversation. When she finally decided to become a participant it was very competitive. Almost like watching (in this case listening) to sparring partners. These three mothers are all caring supportive parents but clearly in a frenzy over their child’s educational future.

Somehow, somewhere the climate and culture of getting our children ensconced in their post secondary education has become a torturous experience. I think it’s partially driven by misinformation, a competitive culture, and an anxiety about the future. Over my years as a mother, our first children went to college in the 1980’s and the last in 2001 and I’ve been involved in higher education as an educator and administrator since the 1970’s, I have seen an incredible change in the attitudes surrounding admissions. Who’s made the changes? In my opinion it’s the old “chicken and the egg” question.

There is no doubt that there are some external forces that govern college admissions. More students are applying to college today than ever before. Colleges and universities are not springing up to meet the demand and if they were their accreditation and reputation would be slow to meet the acceptability of the public. Women are outnumbering men on many college campuses. Economic and recession worries crimp college budgets which in turn affects enrollment. Then comes the parental expectation for their child. Like the grandparent’s photo “brag book”, the new college parent badge of honor is the college bumper sticker or t-shirt that states their student’s college admission status. Like the women on the treadmill, many parents are unwilling to share that their child might have applied to a college that wasn’t an Ivy League, Big Ten or even Pac 10 school, let alone whether or not they will be admitted. So with that in mind, I want to share a very appropriate column that appeared sometime ago in the San Francisco Chronicle. It is written by an independent college admissions adviser. It’s good advice and I think you’ll appreciate her wisdom.