It's that time of year again when Palo Alto parents of high school graduates congratulate each other on where their children are going to college.
My suggestion is, when you run into an old friend at Town and Country and she says, "Congratulations, I hear your son is going to Stanford," the ideal response is not, "Thank you," but rather, "I had nothing to do with it, I'll pass your congratulations on to him."
Even though it may seem like you applied to college given all the support, nudging, cajoling, check writing and credit card swiping you did to make sure he got though high school and got his application done on time, he really did it on his own. He got the A's, he took the SAT's, he even managed to be introspective enough to come up with a couple of great essay topics.
Maybe the new greeting should be, "I hear your son is going to Stanford, he must be a great kid, congratulations for not messing it up!"
And by the way, any student who makes it through two of the toughest high schools in the country should be congratulated, regardless of what they're doing after high school. Where you got into college is not a predictor of future success, which is why 10 year high school reunions are so, shall we say, interesting.
So just how involved should parents be in their child's search for a college? The book all students should give their parents is,"I'm Going to College, Not You!" by Jennifer Delahunty.
There are several views on a parent's role. Here is mine:
1. Before the process starts tell your student exactly how much cash you will contribute and how many dollars in loans you are willing to take out. It is sad when a student gets into her favorite college and finds out she can't go.
2. Know your kid. If your son has severe executive function issues, he is not automatically going to get organized because, "college is important." He needs you to keep him on track. If your daughter is independent and has gotten through high school on her own, she might only need your credit card. Although clearly a recessive gene trait in my family, lots of kids figure the whole thing out on their own and the parents find out where they are going when they start wearing the school's sweat shirt.
3. Plan family trips to visit colleges.
4. Do a great job on the brag sheet. Paly and Gunn ask parents to write an essay about their child that they will use to write the counselor's recommendation. Spend as much time on this as you expect your child to spend on his essay.
5. Know the odds. Encourage your child to reach for the stars, but to be firmly planted on the ground. 90 percent of this year's Paly and Gunn grads are not going Ivy League, MIT, Stanford or Berkeley even though at times it seems everyone is. If you're a parent and back in the day earned a degree from an elite school, there's a good chance you wouldn't get in there today. Admission rates are lower than interest rates, and world-wide competition has sky-rocketed at these schools. A former Pomona dean calls admissions at elite schools basically a crap shoot. As recently as 1990, Stanford had 12,954 applicants, in 2013 Stanford had 38,828 applicants. In 1976, Yale had a 26.4% admit rate. In 2013, it was 6.9%. These numbers might shed some light on the long held family question of how in the heck did Uncle Joe get into Dartmouth back in the day.
Well, that's it for the inaugural blog. Please comment below and let us know what worked for your family. We welcome your admission questions and if we don't have the answer , we'll check in with our colleagues from around the country to get you the latest thinking. You can email us at ThinkingAboutCollege@gmail.com.