Book Review: Getting Into College
Chicken Soup for the Soul - Teens Talk Getting In...to COLLEGE: 101 True Stories by Kids Who Have Lived Through It (paperback)
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Amy Newmark
Reviewed by Sally Rubenstone
The world is already rife with guidebooks that provide exacting instructions on how to "ace" applications and craft essays "that work." High school students who have done everything right since kindergarten are warned to expect bad news from top-choice colleges nonetheless, and the cost of campus visits alone can make parents cringe, even well before the real bills follow.
Yet, although admissions how-to tomes abound, (and I take personal blame for several), Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In ...to College is a refreshing departure from the norm. It offers 101 vignettes that cover the full spectrum of the college search and seizure process, in chapters that include "Planning...and Having a Life," "Standardized Testing Madness," "Parental Pressure and Support," "Essays, Interviews, Auditions, and "Self-Doubt," and many more.
For parents and students currently caught in the college quagmire, reading the tales of those who survived is soul food indeed. Some, for instance, will identify with poor Joan who thought her life was over when she earned a "C" in AP Biology as a junior, or with Hank, the freshman, who took "Product Design" for the easy "A" and flunked. Others may see themselves in Seth who confessed that, on the eve of the SAT, he was up till 4 a.m., surrounded by vocabulary flashcards, "trying to commit the word 'obstreperous' to memory." The stories feature a broad swath of applicants and college goals. For many, only the Ivy or "elite" institutions will suffice. For others, a community college diploma will be a family first.
The chapter called "Disappointments and Silver Linings" is especially apt for those who suffer from serious admissions angst, as well as for anyone who has been turned away from a favored school. Here, we read about Michael, who received a mailbox full of thin denial letters but was finally admitted to Georgetown after a gap year. And, in today's economy, Jacquelyn's tale will resonate. After being accepted by her dream school, Northwestern, the prohibitive price tag forced her to enroll at less pricey Purdue instead. "A year has gone by, and I have absolutely no regrets about my decision to attend Purdue," she reports. "While my life would definitely be different if I hadn't, I have made so many friends and so many memories that I don't care what life would be like at Northwestern."
Although this book is titled "Teens Talk Getting In ..." the contributors, in fact, range from current high school students to collegians, recent grads and aging Baby Boomers. Parents who grab this book from their progeny will be especially glad to find the after-the-fact perspective that the older authors provide. Some of these writers share their own remembrances of a bumpy road to college while others—parents themselves—provide reassurance that there are many paths to happiness and success, regardless of admissions outcomes. Over the years, I've observed that College Confidential members seem grateful when veterans of the admissions wars return to the CC discussion forum to share their wisdom. Here, too, readers will find a welcome dose of helpful hindsight.
"We often tell our teen readers (and their parents) that these books are like a 'support group you can carry in your backpack,'" notes Chicken Soup publisher Amy Newmark. And, indeed, as one might expect from any item on the ever-expanding Chicken Soup menu, the narratives in this collection are heartwarming, but they are not often predictable or trite. They remind us that the best counsel of all comes from reading the real stories of those who have known first-hand the anxiety and uncertainty of the college application process, and they show high school students and their parents that there is no single right approach or perfect school and that it's the "who" that counts the most, not the "how"...or "where."