Monday, March 10, 2008

College is Making Me Crazy

Many of you out there in the blogiverse are captivating reads.

I’m especially enamored of late with Whiskey in My Sippy Cup, BooMama, and breed ‘em and weep. These blogs are very different, but they share a common denominator: those ladies can write.

But I must confess that recently my eye has been roving. College Confidential has me hooked.

Those of you still worried about finding the right preschool probably haven’t heard of College Confidential. I hadn’t either, until I read a harrowing piece in the New York Times about the struggles of teenage geniuses who started free tutoring programs in the Sudan to get accepted at top colleges.

If your last brush with college admissions was two or three decades ago, let me tell you: things have changed.

Back in my day (What's that siren? Oh yeah ... the old coot alert!), you took the ACT the fall of your senior year. If your parents were rich and you could look at private schools, you took the SAT. You sent in an application or two or three (which took all of an afternoon to complete), and then you went back to riding around in cars with boys who horrified your parents, clandestinely drinking beer.

These days, if your family includes both a really promising kid (I’m not trying to brag, I'm just establishing the context – if Billy were a football player, we’d be fending off booster club offers of party girls and free Hummers) and one head-spinningly neurotic parent (see if you can guess which one), the whole process is way, way more complicated than that.

Unfortunately, we’ve come late to this party. The other completely wacko parents with talented children started getting nervous way earlier than I did. These kids were visiting colleges and taking the SAT "for fun" back in ninth grade. They were earning community service hours while still in diapers and doing promising research toward a cancer vaccine while Billy was still fixated on Pokemon cards and toilet humor.

Billy and I didn’t realize how competitive and crazy this whole thing had become until midway through his sophomore year, by which point it was getting a little late. We’re doing our best to catch up, though.

Billy is taking and re-taking entrance exams, meanwhile spending lots of money on test prep books that seem to have taken up permanent residence next to his toilet. (He clearly has inherited my tendency to prepare for any and all circumstances with a trip to the bookstore. When in doubt, buy a how-to book.)

I’m keeping up with the reams and reams of paper that various colleges send us, all of which show a group consisting of a white male, an Asian girl, a black professor, and a really happy person in a wheelchair sitting under a tree on a sunny afternoon just shooting the breeze. I'm trying to forget that the Class of 2009 is projected to have more kids applying to college (and thus more kids vying for top college acceptances) than any class in history.

Bob is earning the money that is just enough to keep us from qualifying for financial aid but not nearly enough to pay for anything other than a state school that’s really not a good fit for Billy. (Just this morning I learned that our EFC – Expected Family Contribution, or Extremely Fantastical Concept – was a figure so high we’d have to stop eating and using electricity in order to come up with it.)

Ben is going along for the ride on our trip next week to visit colleges. I keep telling him this trip is a good thing – that he’ll be happy later that he’s already visited those four schools. I think he believes he’s being cheated out of a perfectly good week at the beach.

And College Confidential? College Confidential is doing its best both to educate me (“need-blind admissions means the school is blind to your need”) and scare me to death (“I had a 2350 on the SAT, was first in my class, ran a multinational corporation, placed first in the state tennis tournament, and got rejected at Really Prestigious U.”) It’s one part Encyclopedia Brittanica (“it’s really easy to get from South Bend to Chicago – there’s a bus from campus that will drop students off at either airport”), one part US Weekly (the murder of Eve Carson at Chapel Hill last week “looks to be a carjacking gone bad. Vehicle is a favorite of gangbangers.”)

For a person the tinest bit prone to get TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY OBSESSED with a topic, College Confidential is a godsend. I haven’t visited TMZ in weeks.


jennifer h said...

I'm not ready for all of that. Please, God, don't let my son skip any grades...

When the time comes, I hope your book (that you're going to write for the rest of us, who aren't so organized) will be at my local bookstore.

No TMZ? That's crazy talk.

Mr Lady said...

I started out all flattered and then I kept reading.

I should have stopped while I was ahead.

I mean, CRAP. My oldest turns 10 next month and we haven't even started thinking about majors or anything! We don't even really technically belong to ONE SINGLE COUNTRY right now!!

Where can I get that SAT book, again? I think it's time we got a FINER grasp of English.

Betsy Bird said...

With any luck, by the time your oldest is ready to look at colleges, the whole thing will have calmed down some. It's COMPLETELY out of control right now, though. My son knows a girl who's at the very top of her class and frantic about staying there. She was sick and had a test coming up, so she drank six of those little Starbucks shots-in-a-can so she'd have the "energy" to study. She ended up in the ER with heart palpitations. But she was there the next day to take the test!

breed 'em and weep said...

Oh holy heck. I thought I was ready to fast-forward to Empty Nesthood (well, today I was), but whoa!

Thank you for the superkind shout-out, BTW.