Seeing College as Possible

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When I was in high school in the late 1970s, my best friend asked this:

“What do you mean you don’t know if you’re going to college? What will you DO?”

She was wonderful, but these were, in retrospect, loaded questions based on her own life experience. Think about all that’s built into that query. The assumption that I even see it as a choice or that it’s something my parents would encourage. The notion that, like her, I was coming from a household where the HOW wouldn’t be an issue. Where is the money for this? The scope of what one person sees as possible that another doesn’t.

It was never about thinking I wasn’t smart enough. I knew I was. My grades were good, I was a voracious reader, and I had already begun to excel in writing. I had no preconceived ideas of going to an elite school; it was simply foreign to me. I suppose that’s why I never felt the state college I went to was ‘lesser than.’

****

On a recent visit to my parents’ house, my father struck up a conversation with me over coffee. He’s in his 80s and lately he’s been in a life review sort of phase. This day, he seemed concerned that I often speak with pride about paying my own way through college and that it reflects badly on his and my mother’s parenting.

I have softened on this topic over the years and so I was able to respond from a genuine place that was kind, but still allowed me to stand my ground on how important this part of my story is in the grand scheme of my life.

“Dad, when I talk about putting myself through school, it says a lot about who I am. It tells an interviewer, a prospective client or even a date how important college was to me. It also shows my determination and how I go after what I want. It is not meant to be a comment on you and Mom,” I said.

He nodded. I think I sensed relief.

My father was the consummate provider. He loves me very much. But he has never been interested in what I consider my biggest accomplishments. I am not sharing this from a place of resentment or judgment. It’s just fact.

My story is my story.

****

Those are the kinds of things going through my mind since finding out this week about the college admissions scandal that has ensnared 50 people — actors, college coaches, and others. Somewhere on the spectrum between, “College? Really?” and, “Here’s some money, pretend my kid is going to grab an oar and row on an elite level” is a healthy approach to helping your child figure out how she’s going to plan her life after high school.

I’ve seen a number of parents expressing themselves on social media about this, proud to have let their children find their own way with some guidance where needed. But I’ve also noticed some of the silent ones, including some good people I know who have spent years hand-wringing and looking over their shoulders to see if someone else’s kid is going to a better school than theirs. As an outside observer, I find this curious.

Here’s the approach the ringleader of this college scam, Richard Singer, has used — exploit the ego of those parents who see their child’s college choice as a competition, a reflection of themselves and their own success. In a video pitch he did for a reality show in 2010, Singer said this:

“This is a game. Just realize that this is a game. The things that I see on a daily basis, it’s amazing what’s going on in people’s homes across the country. My name is Rick Singer. My job is to life coach kids and families through the whole process of getting into college.”

As if my life coaching profession doesn’t take enough of a hit without this guy claiming the title. Coaching is about shepherding, encouraging, listening. It is not about illegality. It does not facilitate feelings of entitlement and take them to an absurd extreme.

It seeks to answer this question: As a parent, how can I best use the resources we have to help my child make good decisions and maximize her potential? A coach can assist with that. How can I best buy my child’s future? No respectable coach is going there. And a “master coach” certainly isn’t.

****

I read a story this week about a boy from Jersey City whose family was homeless for a while in 2017. He did his best to study in the shelter. He’s studied, taken and re-taken tests, and earned his place as an honors student in advanced placement classes.

Fast forward to this week, when he found out he’s been accepted to 17 colleges. According to The New York Times’ Christine Hauser:

He hasn’t yet heard back from his first-choice school, The College of New Jersey.

That’s my alma mater. I really hope he gets in.

Written by

Columnist, Blogger, Author, Coach in the Greater NYC area. Six-word bio: Zen chick with a Jersey edge. Favorite topics: gender, politics, race, meaning of life.

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