Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ready for the Real World?

I hate so many things about this college search process, it makes my head spin.  I hate having too many choices.  I hate looking at schools (largely because I hate traveling).  I hate the guesswork involved in trying to figure out where The Teenager will be happy and thrive over four (or five, or six) years.  But the thing I hate most is the random, arbitrary feeling of it all. It seems like a process that lacks anything that even remotely resembles fairness or order.

You’re playing the odds in a game whose rules seem totally capricious and are likely to change from school to school. 

The teenager told his college counselor that he may be interested in a particular engineering school and she told him that as a white boy from New Jersey, his chances of being accepted were very slim.  He’s got the grades.  He’s got the scores.  He’s got the interest.  Not enough.  “It would be easier for you to get in if you were a girl,” she said to him.  And I start to wonder whether there’s enough money in his college savings for a sex change operation.

“The system is broken,” said a friend of my husband’s whose daughter applied early decision to a certain Ivy League school (his alma mater) and was wait-listed.  His daughter has excellent grades, great test scores, does lab work as in intern at Harvard, has her own research projects and is an accomplished equestrian.  Here’s what happened:  Her classmate’s dad is friends with the Ivy’s crew coach – good friends – and he called in a favor for his own daughter.  The coach spoke to the admissions office and the classmate was accepted early decision as a recruit for the crew team.

My friend’s daughter was devastated that she’d been wait-listed and to have a spot given to her classmate seemed beyond outrageous to her.  Why?  Because the classmate has never rowed crew a day in her life.

The classmate is apparently an ok student and a very good artist.  Perhaps an artist who would have thrived at an art school.  But maybe the art schools she was drawn to didn’t have a crew teams, or at least not teams that were coached by her dad’s friends, so she was better off, I guess, taking a spot the Ivy that her more qualified classmate could have had.

Who knows whether the our friend's daughter was next in line for that early decision slot.  Who knows whether the young artist will turn out to be a star coxswain. 

Deep down most of us just want our kids to spend time at a school that will prepare them for the real world. Still, to tell The Teenager a story like this, and then when he looks at me all mystified and full of disbelief, to simply nod my head and say, “I know.  That’s sometimes how the world works.”  Well, I hate that, too.

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