Strong Minds. Kind Hearts.

Musing About the College Process


I have been thinking a lot about the recently uncovered "college scandal." It deeply saddens me. Period. Yet, it has also forced me to confront my own privilege. I applied early decision to Cornell University many years ago. My parents had met there and thus I was a second generation legacy. My brother was a senior at Cornell when I was a senior in high school. I was accepted. Here's the piece that I didn't really put together until recently. When I told my father I was accepted, he said "I know." He had become friendly with a man in the development office....mmm....was I accepted for me? Did I take the place of another truly deserving student whose parents didn't go to college or didn't donate to the university? Of course, we will never know for sure but it did make me question my value. Was I accepted for my merit or my connections and privilege?

Here's the kicker. My guidance counselor very clearly stated that "Cornell is the best school you can get into." What he really meant was it has the best "name", it's Ivy League (which is just a football league, in case you were wondering.) But it wasn't the best for me. I learned to advocate for myself in a large institution but I made few connections. A psychology class of over 1000 students was good theater but not necessarily the deep and engaged learning experience I have come to appreciate. The weather in Ithaca is what inspired the first dreams of living in LA. My brother had a far different experience at Cornell and it was the right school for him. It's no surprise that our children differ from each other. I wish that I had looked beyond the pressure of attending "the best" and to found the right school for me.

Ali is in the midst of the college acceptance process. She was rejected from her first choice, accepted at a school that doesn't feel right, accepted at a school that might feel right and still waiting to hear from others. Watching her go through the process is challenging. Yet, I have let her drive this train. I need nothing from her other than her happiness. Wherever she goes, I will share with pride. She has faced a tough system and learned who she is along the way, not by the value schools place on her but by discovering what she values and must have as part of her next four years. And, it really is only four years.

I know sometimes we worry about the future opportunities for our children. Will the big name schools give more opportunity? I believe in my heart that all colleges allow for a plethora of opportunities and it is the student who can take advantage, or not, of those. My step daughter is currently pursing her PhD in Anthropology at a highly competitive school. 10 years ago, she left high school and attended Suffolk Community College for two years. I won't go into full detail on how she got from point A to point B but I will say that it was about her discovering her passion, working incredibly hard and taking advantage of opportunities presented along the way. She envisions her future life as one of travel to various locations in conducting research and working for a museum or college. I see her now as a young adult with purpose and joy-isn't that the very definition of success we want our children to find?