Click! That’s the sound of the send button on my son’s computer (and of my credit card getting a workout.) Four out of seven college applications have now been sent.
He’s been a marvel, my son, during this dreadful season – the season of the application mania. He’s been working hand in glove with his guidance counselor since last spring, making sure he is thinking about the right things when choosing the schools to which he is going to apply. He has gotten all the transcript paperwork in, hocked us over the summer to make sure we submitted our “essay” to the guidance counselor that will help her formulate her recommendation, and has been working on his own essay with his grandpa the English teacher for months.
Turns out that he really needs three or four or five essays, or “personal statements,” as they’re called on the applications. That was a bit of curveball. But he has persevered, and in mid-October, he is more than halfway through his application process, and my husband and I have done very little except be supportive when he’ll let us. I am proud of his ability to manage this very complicated application process with little input from us - we're his final proofreaders, and have helped him think through his choices, but that's about it.
But this is not what I’m really thinking about right now. What I’m really thinking about is an article that I read in Washingtonian magazine earlier today that got my knickers in a twist.
It was the typical human interest profile that the magazine excels at producing – a local businessman or woman who has made good doing something a bit unusual, or someone from the charity circuit. In this case, it was a former high school English teacher who discovered she had a knack for getting her private school students into top-notch colleges, and developed an enormously profitable business doing just that.
Apparently, nervous parents in the DC region, especially in well-heeled Montgomery County, spend $10,000 in a child’s senior year (only $7,000 if the child is a junior - never to early to astart!) to hire her to gain access to this entrepreneur's wisdom, her ability to help massage an application, her contacts and her track record of getting kids into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and all the rest of the Ivies and top rated schools.
$10,000. For a college consultant. $10,000 spent before you even step onto campus. Sheesh.
Of course, she also donates her time and her college application acumen to a non-profit organization she founded to help disadvantaged kids improve their scores, shepherd their applications and help those kids make it to those same schools. A noble cause, and one I admire greatly.
But where does that leave me and my in-the-middle kids and their chances of going to a good college?
Our family is already in that middle space, where we clearly will not be eligible for need-based financial aid, but can in no way afford $50,000 a year tuition for three kids to attend private colleges. So we’re already -- happily and without any shame --on the “apply to state schools” track. Even that will be a stretch for us.
I do not begrudge the needy kids who are helped by her non-profit organization, Collegiate Directions, one bit. But I am kind of floored by the difference having money can make in one’s ability to navigate the system and improve one’s chances of a shot at a prestigious school. It used to be that money bought you that seat through legacy; today, it’s through consultancy.
I am so proud of my son I could burst. He has worked hard to overcome a rough 9th grade year and has an upward grade trajectory and great work and leadership experience to show over the past couple of years. He is applying to schools that are within his reach and have the program that he wants to study. But he’s not applying to Harvard, no matter how nicely he has progressed.
A good friend said to me earlier this week, “I don’t ever want you to say that again. Who cares where he applies? So long as he’s happy and successful.”
She’s right. But we live in a hyper-competitive community. And I worry that even with the mid-range schools to which my son is applying, he will be in stiff competition with other kids hoping to move onto the same track. And I can in no way afford $10,000 to help us ensure that his application process is successful. We’ll have to rely on our own smarts and abilities to see us through.
I know that there is a place for everyone. And I have long trusted that we would somehow figure out that financial piece once we got there. But I am still a bit peeved that there is such a discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots in this process. In a world where merit is not always the way to succeed, college counselors at $10,000 a pop seem to be the ace-in-the-hole.
So I guess we’re just going to have to rely on common sense, both on our part and on the part of the college admissions officers, and hope that they take a moment to suss out the real kid who’s behind the transcript. I don't know much about the application process, and I don't understand the motivations of college admissions officers. But I know enough about life to know that there should be a place for everyone somewhere, and I have high hopes that my child, with all his fabulousness, coupled with all his flaws, will shine through and that someone, somewhere will see that he is worth taking a chance on.
Photo by rex libris via Flickr