Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

“Getting In,” our column on college admissions, continues with writer Elizabeth Frederick moving on to child number two.  Will she be wiser the second time around?? -The Eds

When I think of Grace, it is sometimes an image of the round-cheeked, silken pre-schooler dressed in sequins, tutus, boas, and plastic kitten heels.  Sometimes, it is the middle school Grace of drawstring, dotty shorts and a team t-shirt.  Or the Grace of fuzzy pajamas wearing her old, purple glasses.  I think of the child with the invisible friend, who defended her from her dominant older sister, and of her remarkable capacity for deep, infectious belly laughter.  I think of her snuggled warm under a blanket, lost in a good book about a princess.  Until recently, I have not had to think of her as Grace, the independent.  Grace, the college student.  Grace, the one who will leave. 

It’s hard to see what, if anything, about this experience is easier the second time around.  Ignoring my self-pitying sentimentalities about being left behind, the college application process is just a grind.  And doing it two years in a row might not be ideal, for parents or child.  But c’est la vie.  On we go.  Emily and Grace, like all siblings, are different.  Not apples-and-oranges different, but certainly discernable.  So we should not be surprised that they have shown individual styles in this distance run to the finish banner of college admissions.  And, as their parents, we have taken a slightly different approach this year, too.

My friend at work calls first born children the “practice child.”  Obvious theory – we try things out on the unlucky first one, and then improve our skills moving forward.  It’s not that we made mistakes, per se, with Emily’s application year.  To the contrary, we essentially left her to her own devices, which was just how she wanted it.  Fiercely independent, our first-born would do it herself, for better or worse.  This second child, though, maybe having learned from her sister’s trials, is willing to hear what we have to say, to let us help, even if in the smallest measure.  She is talking to us.  She has let me proofread her essays.

Unlike with our practice child, we requested a meeting with Grace’s college counselor in September.  We asked if there were things we could, or should, do differently this second time around – you know, learn from experience.  We asked her what the most successful college applicants’ families are doing to help their kids get into college.  To our surprise, there actually IS something.  We certainly didn’t know it, so maybe some of you don’t either.  Grace’s counselor suggested that, because Grace has a clear idea of her area of academic focus, she might contact the heads of departments at her target schools and attempt to have a conversation, or even try to set up an interview.  Perhaps we are obtuse, but this had truly never occurred to us before.  Good advice.

Grace said something magical last night.  When my husband went to say good night (knowing she would be up for hours more doing homework and writing essays), he asked her how she was doing.  She said, “Great!  I feel like I’m becoming the young woman I want to be.”  I am not making that up!  This morning, my reflection on the college application process is, WHO CARES?  Grace is going to college – we know that.  What we heard last night – that’s important, and something we can truly celebrate this second time around, knowing it all turns out okay.  Our child is in control of her destiny.  She is empowered to walk forward down whatever path life puts in front of her.  So, if we do something different this time around, maybe it will matter, and maybe it won’t.  But I am reminded, once again, of the thing we should always keep front and center:  College is just a step in their very long future.  We need to help them remember that, so this season does not destroy who they are becoming.