A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.
Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.
Like many families across the nation, we’re in the midst of playing the game I call “Acceptance.” Participants in the game are high school seniors and their parents. It’s an exciting game fraught with highs and lows. Basically, the game consists of opening the mailbox every day with a mixture of excitement and dread. Sometimes the mailbox is electronic, but nevertheless, everyone waits to find out: Was I accepted by the college of my choice? Did I get the scholarship that I want/deserve/need?
This is our second time playing Acceptance and you’d think that we’d play it better this time around. Not so much. When our son applied to colleges, he was lucky in one sense: He knew exactly what he wanted to study. This narrowed down his options, which was good, but also meant that disappointment could send him on a completely different path. Our daughter wants to follow a similar educational path, one that adds an extra added dimension of nerves and stress. More on that later.
Applying to college nowadays is its own special kind of hell. The good news is that the internet provides families with a wealth of information on colleges and programs nationwide. The bad news is that information overload may be the greatest obstacle in the college application process.
At the risk of dating myself, I will tell you that I applied to exactly one college when I was a high school senior. My parents never attended college and so they had absolutely no idea how to advise me. To them, any college was better than no college. The fact that my brother attended the same college sealed the deal for them. It was a neat and tidy education solution for me…and them. (I screwed everything up by transferring after freshman year, but that’s another story.)
My husband and I couldn’t wait to share our college wisdom with our children. I don’t think either of us was fully prepared for the onslaught of confusion and stress that would await our children and us. You’d think that technology would make the process easier, but honestly, I think a big fat stack of paper sometimes seems less daunting than the infinite black hole known as the internet.
Nevertheless, we met with school counselors, toured colleges, attended school meetings and learned how to fill out the godforsaken FAFSA form. Now, the Federal Government will tell you that FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. My husband, who gets to fill it out, would probably say that it stands for Finding Automatic Frustration while Screaming Always.
Then it’s all up to the kids and, I can tell you, this is the most maddening part for parents. When kids are juniors, they tell you not to worry – they’re going to finish their applications the summer before senior year. It’s a lie. They just won’t, which means that you’ll have to nag, nag, nag, nag, nag…and then nag some more so they meet application deadlines. Our favorite moment this school year was weeks after our daughter had supposedly filled out her college applications, she very casually mentioned: “Hmm…I don’t think I hit the submit button on three of my applications.” (Insert sound of mother pulling hair out!)
Be aware, the application can be just the beginning of a VERY long process. Kids who want to study the performing arts, play a sport, earn a special scholarship or just attend an elite school may also have to deal with auditions, try-outs, interviews and rugged evaluations. It’s not enough that their academics have to be up to snuff, but then they also have to pour their heart and soul into demonstrating that they are good enough or better than the rest. This can be heartbreaking or encouraging. As parents, it’s our responsibility to build up our kids and reassure them that they’re young and they have plenty of time to find their passion, talent and purpose in life. But convincing a rejected teenager can seem like an impossible task.
Our job while we play “Acceptance” is, of course, to cheer and console while the acceptances or rejections roll in. But we also have to convince our kids that they are more than what these schools say they are. A rejection from a music program does not mean they are not musicians. A scholarship lost doesn’t mean that other kids are better or smarter than them. A team that doesn’t have a roster spot doesn’t mean they aren’t athletes. As we know, blooming isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. And, conversely, just because they received good news now doesn’t mean the hard part is over. This will be toughest message to convey to our kids: After college, life is just beginning.
To all of you parents who are playing “Acceptance” and those of you who are about to play: I take my hat off to you. Pretty soon this will all be over and we’ll get to worry about roommates, campus security, commutes home, college dating, spring break…..it never really ends, does it?