John is on the Grid

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More from our writer, Elizabeth Frederick, who takes us on her third journey through the college application process in her column Getting In. This time she chronicles the experience with her son, a sophomore at a local all-boys school. Names have been changed to prevent her kids from killing her protect her children’s privacy. -The Eds.

Our high school sophomore son, John, is officially on the college admissions grid.  He has taken his first set of PSATs, and has a score report to compare with all other 10th graders in the country who have taken the PSAT.  In addition to being a predictor of SAT performance, a tool for rising juniors who will be thinking more seriously about college admissions, the PSAT is combined with the NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  The NMSC (National Merit Scholarship Corporation) offers scholarship programs for qualifying juniors in the very top percentiles.This new reality, being in the college admissions arena, is a sobering truth.  It feels too early to be starting this process, too early for John to be getting mail from colleges and universities, asking for his interest and attention.  It certainly feels like the process has started sooner than with our older kids.  We are not ready.  He is not ready.  He’s a kid – a boy in a growing man’s body.  John is a good student.  But he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.  He doesn’t know where he wants to go to college, or how to start thinking about it.  I don’t know how his second semester of sophomore year, or his summer job, whatever that is, will get him any closer to discerning these facts.  So, now that he is on the grid, how do we help him plot his course?

Of course, we want him to go to the best college at which he can get accepted.  Because he’s a kid, and a good one, he wants what we want for him (most of the time).  And so, as a newly minted 16 year old, we allow him to take his place at the starting line in the rat race of college admissions.  He will work hard in his AP and Honors courses.  He will struggle to protect his GPA.  He might sign up for the SAT question of the day (College Board will send you a practice question every day if you ask them to) to improve his test-taking skills.  But, is this all good for him?

Ironically, I feel sorry for our society’s high-achieving, rule-following, potential-filled kids.  We allow them to feel so much pressure related to college admissions, and probably put most of it on them.  I wonder to myself, what would really help John on his path to adulthood in this ever-more-competitive world?  Protect him from the college admissions pressure, so that he can grow in an environment that safely accepts him for whoever he is becoming?  Or arm him with all the tools he will need to face and manage the pressure?  John is not our first child to go through college admissions – his sisters are at college, happy and growing.  I would have hoped for more insight by now, but I don’t feel any wiser than our first time around.  I suppose, like with Emily and Grace, we will muddle through, doing our best for him, with him.  And I suppose, like with Emily and Grace, he will ultimately show us the way.

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