‘What about my alma mater?’ I ask.
He doesn’t even have to think about it. ‘No. She’d have to be a completely different student.’
I thought I knew how it worked – and I do. But I also thought my knowledge would help me guide my own two daughters through the college process like I do with the students I work with as an independent college counselor.
After six years working as a college essay editor and independent college counselor, surprise, surprise. It turns out it’s difficult to watch the process unfold without emotions and biases, basically personal reactions to each step in the process.
I try to look at my daughters in the same way as I do our clients/students – with objectivity, but with a true interest in a great outcome. The process we go through with our students can’t be completely objective. Each student is different, applying to colleges with a unique combination of circumstances, academics, grades and extracurriculars. But we do have to base many of our decisions on tangibles – aptitudes and stats – and what we know about our students through months or years of meeting with them and their parents.
It is different though with my own girls. I know them really well. They are extremely three dimensional – they have thoughts, feelings, frustrations. I cringe when I think what probably every parent going through the college process has thought: ‘they are more than test scores and GPA.’ But it’s true. It’s also why I even thought about asking the owner here at College Solutions about the viability of one of my daughters applying to my alma mater.
When one of my daughters was a toddler and wasn’t speaking quite yet, she wanted to talk so badly as she watched her twin sister easily conversing with the adults. She banged her head on the wall in frustration. That kid now meets her frustrations with a calm system of steps to problem-solving. She prides herself on being unflappable and is the calm one among her friend group. I know this about her. When we left her at a sleep-away camp at age 10 sitting on her bunkbed, she hadn’t made any friends yet, but drop-off was over. We had to go. We panicked for a week before her first letter arrived. She was fine – and loved camp. That was the first of many situations we have offered her to help her grow and to find her own way.
We know these things about her. Surely the colleges will too.
And her sister. Fearless. She tells her guy friends that rape jokes are never funny. ‘Even if we’re totally joking?’ Never, she says, and they seem to understand that she’s right. At least they haven’t told any in her presence since that conversation. As a soccer goalie for years, what made her good was her great reflexes – but more than that, her fearlessness. At her first co-ed indoor soccer game in high school, a really skilled guy player came speeding at her, and I don’t quite know what happened, but a few seconds later, he was on the ground, and she had the ball. I picture her now with her fist in the air with one cleat on his chest, but I think my mind has added that last part.
We know these things about her. Surely the colleges will, too.
The common application distilled is not even five full pages of information, mostly facts – what classes are you taking, what are your test scores, did mom and dad go to college? There is an essay, but the essay is so packed with ‘what should I say’ and ‘what makes me stand out’ that these other ‘real’ stories have a tough time surfacing.
So, when the owner of College Solutions interviews my daughters, one and then the other, so he can get to know them and put together a preliminary college list for them, I want to interrupt: “But, wait, there’s this other thing about her…” and “you have to also know…’
But I know the drill; I’ve heard him reference it a hundred times. ‘Parents, quiet! I want to hear from the student. There’s duct tape on the shelf behind you if you’re having trouble.’
My two are mature girls, ready to start thinking about what they want for themselves, starting with a college that will make them happy. So I respect that the process for finding the right college will work. It works for so many.
I just hope that their strength, perseverance and sense of what’s right are strong enough in both girls that those qualities can’t help but bubble up from the totality of their applications.