Thursday, September 6, 2012

Applying to College? Here's How

Patrick O'Connor is  Associate 
Dean of College  Counseling  at 
Cranbrook-Kingswood  School in 
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Her path to college was pretty interesting.  She listened attentively as a ninth grader when she was told to take challenging classes; some subjects came easier than others, so she knew she would never blow the roof off of the entire curriculum, but that was OK. She was challenged, she had her strong subjects, she worked hard to make headway in every class, and she was happy.

The same was true in tenth grade, when students were reminded about the importance of making the most out of high school, not because it looked good to colleges, but because there were so many wonderful things to do in high school, and, well, they did have lives to live.  While some of her peers started to wonder if they had done "enough" community service, she could be found at every event related to saving the planet, helping animals, or helping others.  The highlight of this sophomore selflessness came when she performed with her aunt at a benefit concert, playing the zither.  Tell me that was on the activity sheet of any Harvard applicant last year..., she was good. She was part of a trio who won the junior year talent show, and just like that, the zither came down from Foggy Mountain and into cool.  Junior year was everything it was supposed to be; her voice was stronger in class discussions, her circle of friends grew wider and deeper, and she understood more about who she was, and what mattered to her. It was no wonder she only saw her college counselor a time or two in senior year; when you know who you are and you know what you need for life after high school, the only real function of a college counselor is to sign a few forms, point to the calendar, and be gracious when a student like this thanks you for all you've done.

It is neither realistic nor fair to wish that every student took this same path; while the earth would be cleaner and the endangered species list would be shorter, there is a risk not all students would attain the level of zither mastery this student did, and things could get ugly in a hurry.  Still, when a student pursues every class for the sake of learning, and not a transcript; when doing unto others offers no material value for what is done unto you as a result, and when test prep consists of sharpening two pencils and putting a fresh set of batteries in a calculator, it's hard not to want some semblance of comfortable uniformity, where neither parents nor students know a thing about college application stress, and the editors of every college ranking magazine take up cribbage for lack of an audience.

As the Class of 2013 begins the next round of dream sculpting, we would all do well to keep this goal in mind, and think of this understated wunderstudent, who is currently working on a feta cheese farm in Greece, with plans to tend oxen on an organic farm in China after that.  If that isn't quite what you were expecting, know that she will be heading to college next fall, having deferred admission for a year, along with the full-ride scholarship she earned...

...and know that, as much as she would respect you as a person, when it comes to your opinion of what you think of her college path, she doesn't really have time to think about it.  She's too busy leading her life.

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