The College Admission Dumpster Fire

Colleges need an overhaul. Let’s start with the expense. A four year degree from an in-state school can now cost more than $100,000. Once upon a time going to a public university in your home state made college affordable. I don’t see anything economical about a six figure tuition bill.

Another thing that needs a reset are the machinations kids and their parents feel they’re required to go through to increase  the chances of getting into a “good” college.

As I write this actress Felicity Huffman prisoner #77806-112 was just released from a federal correction facility in Northern California. Her crime was paying $15,000 to have her daughter’s SAT score enhanced and I’m talking richly enhanced. According to documents filed in the case Huffman’s child’s score jumped a whopping 400 points above her PSAT performance. I don’t think this math problem is on the SAT but that works out to Huffman paying $37.50 per point.

At first glance change appears to be in the air. Earlier this month the ACT (a college admission standardized test) announced that in 2020 they will be introducing “scoring reforms” that will allow students to retake select parts of the test (English, math, reading, science or writing). In the past a student had to retake the entire test and couldn’t zero in on the one or two areas where they wanted to improve their score.

Based on my social media feeds there was parental jubilation that this change was happening. There were also people posting that if back in the day they had been allowed to only retake one section instead of the entire ACT they probably could have gotten close to a perfect score. (Please note I was not one of these people. I could have taken the math section 50 times and that score wouldn’t have budged much if at all.)

I was excited by this news for all the future test takers until I did more research and my head began to feel like it was going to explode. First, apparently there’s no limit on how many times you can take the test. Then there’s something called “super scoring” where you take the best score of each section you’ve retaken. When I got to the part about all the different scenarios on how to improve your score from paper testing vs. computer testing to something called “total focus recall” I was in pain.

That intensified when I read articles how the “scoring reforms” were all just a ploy by the ACT to make more money from the anticipated torrent of retesting. (Today it costs $68 to take the ACT. Add in another $52 for the writing test. No word yet from the ACT on how much they’re going to charge for “individual section retesting.”)

Educators were also pointing out that the ability to repeatedly retake sections of the ACT was going to hurt economically disadvantage students who can’t afford the cost of test taking to infinity and beyond. Several shrewd high school counselors fearlessly announced that it was just giving parents (Note they didn’t say students.) another tool to work the system.

After I took two Advil it made me glad my kids were out of the ACT and SAT game. It’s gotten crazy. When did the college process become so complicated? And are parents responsible for the craziness? It’s gotten to the point where parents act like their kid’s ACT score is also their parenting score?

The college process needs a reality check and it should start with telling kids that it should be less about where you go to college and more about what you do once you get there.







Cheating Our Children

At my age I considered myself almost “unsuprisable.” It takes a lot for me to be shocked most especially in the category of asinine human behavior but the recent college admission cheating scandal had me doing a deep WTH?

This story of parents paying a company upwards of a half million dollars to help their kids cheat on college entrance exams and/or bribing college coaches to secure their child a coveted spot on a collegiate athletic team (in all of these cases the child either had never played the sport or didn’t play the sport at a competitive level) solely for the purpose of getting admission to an elite university is so 21st century parenting that I really don’t know why I’m surprised.

In fact, I’m almost embarrassed that I’m surprised. All you have to do is endure any school drop off and pick up line and know that it’s full of parents who firmly believe the rules don’t apply to them or their children. Also, as a parent who has recently gone through the college admission process (including USC which is one the schools that had coaches taking bribes) I should be copping a “tell me something I don’t know” attitude.

Getting into college today has birthed an entire industry from college test prep centers to “collegiate coaches” who do everything from fill out your child’s common app to writing the essays and securing letters of recommendation. When your kid is applying to college you hear a lot of stuff thorough the parent grapevine like stories about a former teacher who now “makes a good living” writing “amazing” recommendation letters for kids she doesn’t even know.

It’s almost like you’re a huge loser if, as a parent, you’re not just involved in your kid’s college application process but you’ve taken it over. If you want to suck the air out of room just tell a group of moms that the only thing you’ve done to help your child apply to college is to give her or him a credit card for the application fee.

My husband and I through ignorance or through having very stubborn children had zero to do with their college application process. We never even read or proofed any of their essays. Last year, after I was mom shamed for not even knowing what my kid was writing about I did ask my daughter if she wanted me to take a look at some of her college essays. She did an eye roll and shared that “she had it under control” and then had to add, “Mom, you do realize that I find grammatical errors in almost everything you write so I think I’m good on my own.” Ouch, but also kind of true.

Parents meddling/micromanaging, and ultimately cheating for their children in the college application process is just another symptom of competitive parenting that begins immediately post womb. I remember being sleep deprived and flabbergasted by mothers whose infants were doing “baby sign language” while my four-month old was trying to eat his toes. Then there’s toddlers reading chapter books by age three, doing algebraic math equations by four and my personal favorite parents doing everything including threats of lawsuits to get their child a “gifted and talented” designation. And I’m not even going to touch upon all the crazy sports parents. We’ve taken our kids childhood and turned it into 18 years of plotting how to get our progeny ahead.

What a tragic waste of a childhood and what a waste of what might have been. Our kids shouldn’t be reduced to be our mini-mes nor should they be groomed to be reflections of our perceived awesomeness. We should practice basic human decency and allow our children to be their own person, to achieve something on their own without a parent scheming in the background, and to learn that failure is an opportunity for growth not something that might make us, the parent, look bad. When did parenting become more about us and less about what is good for our children?