The List: Apply to at Least One Dream School

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My daughter has spent untold hours in her room over the last two weeks of summer.  She’s not hiding, or pouting, or avoiding the rest of the family.  She is working on “the list.”  Emily is a rising senior in high school, and the reality of the college application process has hit her like a pie in the face, kind of sweet, but certainly messy. 

High school has been great for Emily.  She’s done a lot of terrific growing up.  We think she’s pretty mature for her age, makes good decisions in social situations (something not all parents of 17-year-olds think), and has a star-bright future.  Her junior year grades, however, were not what she was hoping for.  This sad fact has an impact on “the list,” the colleges where she plans to apply.  

I have had to check myself in conversations with her about my emotional reaction to her list, but finally I couldn’t bear it.  I had to tell her–I think she is smarter than the schools she is planning to apply to!  I know she needs to be realistic, but it can’t all boil down to GPA, can it?  We are all transfixed by the computer screen when we look at Naviance–the software program that compares Emily’s GPA and SAT scores to those of other graduates from her high school, and charts how those kids fared in the application process at specific colleges and universities–accepted, rejected, deferred.  But, it cannot be this formulaic, can it?

Oh sure, there are some good choices on the list.  A few selective liberal arts schools–proper “reaches.”  But then it all falls apart.  I thought, somehow, that the list would flow something like:  three or four “reaches,” three or four “as-likely-as-nots,” two “safeties.”  Well, Emily has a couple reaches, and then whoosh.  She falls off the ledge!  I know this is not the time in her life for me to tell her what to do, but come on!  Ramp it up a little!  Speaking hypothetically, if she doesn’t get into the so-called reaches, then we must assumed she is going to end up at one of the others on the list–a less brilliant outcome than perhaps we had hoped for.

Our younger daughter, Grace, put it to me straight, though.  She said, “Mom, you just don’t want to tell your friends if she goes to one of those schools.”  Is that it?  I don’t think so.  I mean, I’m sure that’s true, but only a tiny, shameful little bit of the truth.  The bigger part of the truth is that I don’t see a fit for Emily on her list–a place where she will likely get in that deserves her, all that she is.  The list has to get better–it has to change so that it holds a picture we can smile at when we look in the middle.  Sure, we’d be happy if she got into her first choice, but there is a reason we call them “reaches.”  Her list has got to grow so that when we picture her at number 4 or 5 or 6 down the line, we can still feel good, she can still feel good.  I don’t know how to say this to her without sounding critical.  It may be impossible.  But I have to try.  Maybe she doesn’t see herself the way I do–better.          

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Mom- It seems you are making the college process for your daughter all about you. It is an exciting time, but perhaps you should seek out another college counselor if you think the list is not up to your expectations. Let your daughter work with a professional who is not
    emotionally involved.

  2. Dear Anonymous, you are so right! Emily has a great college counselor at her high school, and I know she has been in touch. I hope he thinks as highly of my daughter as I do, and knows all the things that make her extraordinary. The problem with perspective though, is it is inherently personal, and I can only truly know what I see from my eyes. I will heed your caution, and try to step back. But there is noone who wants better for her than I do, so is that really going to be a good thing?

  3. Hmmm, “I know this is not the time in her life for me to tell her what to do…” Say what? Until the child is out there earning a living, paying rent and doing her own dishes, it IS time for you to be telling her what to do. At least, give her the benefit of good advice, with solid reasons behind it. If she were already mature enough to do all this as well as you, there’d be no need for parents. Of course, at 17, there is no guarantee the kid will listen to the advice, but that’s no reason to withhold it.
    If, indeed, the colleges you suggest are more suited to your taste than to her needs, that will show up. But truly, if a teenager is aiming low and a parent can boost that aim a bit, that’s part of the job. How about the adage of never wanting to regret opportunities missed? If she would do well at Stanford, and settles for Cumberland Community College, who will regret it more in ten years?

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