By Robin Noble
Dear Independent Admissions Counselor,
I’m writing to thank you, profusely. You have rescued me from an irreparable parenting debacle.
Let me explain. I have been writing for UniversityParent for a year now, encouraging parents to help their college-bound students stay on top of things in the run up to college application deadlines. I am starting to feel like an expert on the whole shebang.
But it’s September, and I’ve just realized that my daughter, a senior, is behind. Way behind.
Despite my friendly reminders, little hints, gee-whiz suggestions and overt pleadings — all of which have been alternately passive and aggressive — my senior hasn’t added a single school to her list since spring break. She hasn’t even asked for teacher recommendations.
I’ve been busy too, so when this realization hits me I’m shocked. Shocked like the morning I remembered a very important meeting 15 minutes hence. I was standing in my bacon-steeped pajamas, stuck in an NPR fog, sipping coffee like everything was so nice and quiet with the kids off to school when said appointment hit me. I took off at a dead run, ripping off my PJs and tripping down the hall toward the shower even though I knew perfectly well that my meeting was a 15-minute drive away.
That’s how I feel about my parenting of late, dear counselor. Utterly ineffectual. It’s September and I have not persuaded my smart, usually with-it daughter to stay on top of her college admissions work. And I’m panicking.
So that’s when I call you, oh calm and composed admissions expert. You listen and pretend not to hear the forced restraint of my rant. You bat not an eye and invite us to a meeting next week (next week!) and go on to receive my daughter, husband and me in your lovely and cluttered home office.
You remind me of my mother’s best friend Nancy: super smart and in-the-know. You’re motherly and professional, witty and warm. You give all your attention to our daughter. You question her. Laugh with her. Nod with her. Correct her misconceptions. My husband and I melt into the floor. We are peripheral observers and it feels so good.
You give her an assignment: get two teachers to commit to write letters of recommendation for her by tomorrow. I am silently stunned when she blithely accepts your challenge. Dumbfounded when she goes on to get those commitments by noon the next day.
“I’m so glad that’s out of the way,” she says.
I somehow pull off a thin smile and knowing nod because fear not, dear counselor, the relief overpowers the sting.
The thing is, I saw this playing out so differently. I had my daughter and me setting out on the Great College Search, staying up late to talk through pros and cons, consult to-do lists, review test questions and, well, just all of it really.
Instead I am left to revel in your competence. Like a magic wand you grant my senior access to a software program for managing every aspect of the application process, which, while nearly identical to the software program her school provides free of charge, she actually uses! She is exploring more schools, staying on track with electronic check lists, and engaging this process in a whole new way.
In fact, dear counselor, unbeknownst to me (as your weekly meetings no longer include parents) you gave her an assignment to write the first paragraphs of her admissions essay. Apparently she has taken this on with relish!
I learn this during an exchange about an excellent New York Times piece on essay writing I had emailed to her.
“Oh, that,” she says while pecking at her phone. “Right. Thanks, but it wasn’t all that helpful. I’m actually feeling really good about where my essay is going.”
You are working the same kind of magic the ski instructors used when she was four years old. It was only after many weekends of tears and dual lower back injuries that her dad and I surrendered her to ski school. When we returned just a few hours later she was singing “I love skiing” while holding a perfect pizza ski stance and zigzagging down a bunny slope.
It was the same pizza stance we had tried to teach her. The exact same one!
You might think I would have learned my lesson then, but no. In fact, I must apologize to you, dear independent admissions guru, because just as I underestimated the ski instructors, I had you all wrong. I considered you elitist, a depraved resource for overly ambitious parents; a tool of the moneyed few, the Ivy-or-bust maniacs; a cog in all that is overly competitive and wrong about the college admissions process.
I assumed you would break my bank and then break my daughter’s heart by creating more pressure to no good end.
I was wrong. While your $100 engagement fee and $85 per hour rate are not insignificant, you sized up our daughter’s situation and recommended only six single-hour sessions to set her on track. A very good investment indeed, especially considering you are also advising us on how to pay for this whole endeavor.
Your knowledge and experience are priceless, but it’s your outsider’s perspective that has made all the difference. I see now that my daughter’s procrastination was based entirely on a fear of the unknown. She needed another source, apart from us, to guide her.
When our daughter was born, her pediatrician told us not to let her sleep on our chests because she wouldn’t be able to fall sleep by herself. He also told us that from the moment of her birth she would, by nature, be seeking her independence.
I’m so glad we blew off the former. I’m beginning to accept the wisdom of the latter. Thank you, dear admissions counselor, for easing us into her liberation.
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