I’m not talking about high school seniors who suddenly realize this is the end of the road for them as a couple since they are heading off to different colleges in the fall. I’m talking about parents and families. The college application process tests relationships among families who have known one another for years from the schools their kids have attended and the neighborhoods where they have raised them.
Envy, resentment, jealousy – we all experience them at various times in our lives, but they may not have been this close to the surface since we were in high school vying with our buddies for the attention of the object of our latest crush.
In fact, sometimes this college application process feels just like we are back in high school. The very nature of it pits students and parents against one another. Who got into an Ivy? Who got into a more selective college? Who got into all of the colleges they applied to? Did one of your friend’s kids get recruited to play a sport that your child plays, too? Who got fancy scholarships? Who didn’t?
In essence, we are leaving it up to the college admissions folks to determine our worth and the value of our children in comparison with the friends and acquaintances. Aren’t these the same people we have spent time with to cheer on our kids? With whom we have laughed, sympathized, carpooled, and made playdates? Whom we have considered allies and even friends?
Suddenly, the people we used to quickly offer a smile and genuine warmth are objects of negative feelings we are not proud to experience.
It’s now time to admit you’ve been having the feelings you aren’t proud of and rise above them.
Remember how proud you are of your child and their accomplishments. Be proud of the ways you’ve helped their friends and their friends’ parents and the schools. Reach out to friends and acquaintances and tell them how happy you are for them and for the community you have held so dearly.
High schools can also play a role in this process. I know of some schools that bring the whole community together and encourage open and honest conversation about the vagaries of this stage of life and urge people to come together to support one another through it. If your school hasn’t done that yet, this is a great opportunity to make a difference for everyone, for the sake of your better self, and for the sake of your children.
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.