Why is College Selection So Fascinating to Parents?

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: Why is College Selection So Fascinating to Parents?
By Texdad (Texdad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:45 pm: Edit

I think we all care about our kids deeply and want them to get a good education and start in life, but I think there is more to this whole interest than that. I am finding it fascinating. I often can't help feeling that the sort of commonsense, statistical approach to the whole affair as evidenced in the Atlantic articles is probably as close to the truth as you can get in a single article.

What is the fascination? Is it the challenge of beating the game? I think it is partly the longing to be young and return to the excitement of college. To do it over. Be the belle of the prom. I bet most posters had a good time, like I did in school, regardless of where they went.

The selection process is tied into such fascinating topics as money, politics, class, social distinctions, travel/ geography, developmental psychology, and the future of not just your child but the country.

I don't know, but this seems to be about a lot more than just getting a good education for your child.

By Alongfortheride (Alongfortheride) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:52 pm: Edit

I think the CC posters are just interested in the world in general, and love to discuss and debate topics. I have found that some of the most helpful information I received was from this forum. We live in no man's land when it comes to college counseling from our kids' high school. And, I have to say that I continue to find things out about college life these days. It's been awhile since I was there. Prime example was my question to Marite this morning.

By Txtaximom (Txtaximom) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:57 pm: Edit

Our situation is similar to Along's--my son did not want "the usual" and the guidance counselors at school are too overwhelmed and not very knowledgeable about out-of-state or private options. It would be impractical for us to have him travel to every school that might work, so we did rely on what others had to say about their school visits, keeping in mind that these were opinions. It was helpful in the selection process. So were the books about college admissions. While my son did not apply to elites, it did show him what he needed to present on his applications to be competitive at his choice of schools.

By Csbballstardad (Csbballstardad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:57 pm: Edit

I think you are correct, Texdad. Sometimes it seems to be that a #1 college placement is a status symbol for the parent as much as it is a Seal of Approval of their prior parental efforts,or a fancy 1st place ribbon on their prize winning cake.

My D would eat me for lunch if I took credit for her scholastic achievements, and rightly so. I don't drive this bus but I do try to see that it is safe and full of gas.

By Mini (Mini) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:58 pm: Edit

I think it is because it gets down to our core beliefs about the world. I mean, these are our kids, and most of us (even if not most parents) are very wrapped up in trying to "do what's right" by them. It's just not always clear what that is. So we are dealing with power and prestige, money and class, social hierarchies, our own future projections for them, our own personal histories, and our very core beliefs both about how the world operates, and how we think it should.

In fact, I'd go as far as to see this stuff is far more interesting (and important) than the particular college or university any individual child might actually attend. (I think for virtually every kid, except those with very highly specialized interests or needs, there are probably 3 or 4 dozen places, or more, that could well fit the bill - if you could pay for it!)

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 02:17 pm: Edit

I think it's two-fold: First, selecting a place to spent four years at a cost of $100,000+ is a fairly big decision. Second, recognizing that until a 17 year old has experienced college, it is impossible to even consider many of the important factors that will determine a successful match.

Because many of us have experienced college first hand, we can try to lay out options and real-world considerations so that our kids can make informed choices.

Mostly, I think it's about having a daughter go off to college with the same excitement she had the day she first successfully rode a bicycle.

By Kathiep (Kathiep) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 06:01 pm: Edit

I think for many of us it's also a lifestyle thing. When I became pregnant I bought books about pregnancy and babies, when my kids were little I bought parenting books,when we wanted a dog, I researched different breeds, when it was time for a college, I bought college books and started surfing the net for more info.

The college search is fun because it's such a deep subject. Not only do you want to find an affordable college, but your child has to be able to get in, and want to go there. The more I looked into the college search process, the more I realized what I still didn't know. I think it's fascinating. It's also one of the last things you can do with your child before they leave the family circle.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 06:35 pm: Edit

I wonder if our kids will find it as interesting. When we were doing this for ourselves (see the wolves thread) most of us were pretty clueless. Now we have the chance to invest time, energy, interest, and money in what we all can see is a a pretty worthwhile endeavor. Will our kids also feel it enough of a novelty to do the same? What will their motivations be with their own kids??

By Thedad (Thedad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 06:56 pm: Edit

I look at it as participating in a "hinge of Fate" kind of thing. By doing X, you're excluding Y and Z. Going to college is, for many of our children, the first truly life-determining decisions that *(mostly) they* make. It's up there with who they marry and choice of career. If parents have any sense at all, this is the *only* one of those three decisions where they're involved.

From a slightly different perspective, I find that being a parent makes me re-capitulate my own life. All I can say is that my D has made a so much more thoughtful decision than I made and she knows herself much better than I did, including being able to recognize what she *doesn't* know.

By Aparent4 (Aparent4) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 07:03 pm: Edit

I think imagining ourselves or our children at various colleges is an opportunity to try on different futures...it's a chance to reflect on our values and preferences and dreams and to wonder how these might be nurtured in a variety of picture-perfect settings populated by energetic young people on the brink of adulthood. How could this not be fascinating?

By Dadofsam (Dadofsam) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 08:56 pm: Edit

Yes to most of those, but particularly to Kathiep: "It's also one of the last things you can do with your child before they leave the family circle."

One of the reasons for my interest, in addition to the fact that I have to earn the money to pay for it, was the fact that it was the time for S to take on reponsibility for participating in a major way in an important project/decision having to do with his life, but for us to do it with him.

So I did not write his essays, nor did I edit them. I just read them and pointed out some statements or areas that I thought would benefit from changes or leaving out entirely, and suggested some changes in organization. He then had the job of going back and deciding if I was correct or not, and how to make any changes.

All 3 of us discussed the colleges, discussed the objectives, tried to work as a family to accomplish this aim.

Have to admit I also developed an "academic" interest in the entire process, for some of the reasons mentioned by others.

By Tabby (Tabby) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 11:01 pm: Edit

My S's college selection process is so very different from mine. His needs are different and his opportunities are such as I never had. Thus, I am trying to educate myself on the process so that I can assist him in making a sound choice. I don't think I'm trying to "revisit" anything b/c his journey is going to be so different from mine. His experience won't be anything like my college experience, although I did enjoy mine. BTW, CC has taught me so much. It has been invaluable.

By Soozievt (Soozievt) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 11:16 pm: Edit

I identify with what KathieP wrote. For me, it is just another stage with our children that we have supported and guided. Granted, this one was a biggie but I have been interested in whatever "subject" we have been involved with at each stage of their lives. For a long while it was childbirth and baby books. Now, I guess it has come to this, colleges! But it is not any kind of revisiting for me. I do have to say when I saw all the kids at college yesterday, it sure looked like fun and something I wouldn't mind doing! But that is not what has me interested in it. I just get real interested in whatever my kids are involved with at various moments in their lives.


By Mom101 (Mom101) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 11:17 pm: Edit

It's such a major decision and at 17 or 18, they don't know what they don't know!

By Willywonka (Willywonka) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 12:10 am: Edit

Well, I wish my parents were as fascinated with the process as the parents here seem to be. Actually, scratch that, maybe it's a good thing. I do think, strictly because of CC, that I've made a list of schools to which I will apply that any parent with knowledge of the process would appreciate. I'd like to think so, anyway.

I do tell them everything I'm thinking about the process, and why I'm thinking it, and what I'm likely to think about it in a week. I think they've learned quite a bit about it that they probably had hoped they would have already learned from my two older siblings, but it was apparently not meant to be. "Next year, mom, I'll go to school," has been the operative phrase for my sister for about five years.

By Momrath (Momrath) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 03:34 am: Edit

I think we've been interested and involved in our children's education from day one (birth, that is) because we learned early on that no one knows our kids as we do, cares about them as we do or has the energy and responsibility to go to bat for them as we do.

The college admission process is frightfully daunting. Without a full family court press, only the most motivated kids (would they all be girls?) would ever get into selective schools. We need to be interested and involved if we want to be assured that our kids go the college that best suits their personalities and at which they can get the best education for their special needs.

Years back, only the Kerrys and Bushes of the world went to Yale. Now Yale (and Swarthmore and Brown and a host of other elites) are within the reach of accomplished bright kids from average American families of all social and racial backgrounds, but only if they understand the rules and apply intelligently. On the other side of coin are the very appealing less-selectives (the opprobrious safeties). Kids need help in finding and learning to love the not-Yales-but-great-educations as well.

And lastly, the whole process, the visiting, the late night discussions, the essay editing, the packing, the dreaming is so much a part of what makes a family -- watching your kids grow up and knowing that their next step on life's journey is a thoughtful and happy one.

By Mom2003 (Mom2003) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 05:54 am: Edit

Hmm... I think we all have either too much time on our hands or have very little social life outside of the board ;-)

By Angstridden (Angstridden) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 07:16 am: Edit

For me helping my D. select the right school was to help her continue to grow WITHOUT me right there. In other words, I was looking for a place where she would be HAPPY..and educated and grow up and mom was going to be out of the picture for the majority of the time.
Because I love her so so much and want the very best for her..it was a stressful time for me. I was so worried about helping her make the right choice.
Right from the getgo..when I thought a small school that "hugged" her would be best ..she put her foot down and said she wanted BIG..and space.
And then it was the process of elimination..YEEEHAAA! She is happy where she landed at Universiyt of Maryland College Park with around 25,000 Undergraduates. She did wind up in Honors which has about 700? students with special housing and advising and functions. So I got the small school in away..and she got the big school. We both got what we wanted and what she needs.
BUT bottomline the college selection process for me was intense and stressful because we were picking another nest for her.
My next project is learning how to destress!

By Concerneddad (Concerneddad) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 10:59 am: Edit

As I look deep into my own motivations, it would be disingenuous for me state that some amount of ego is not involved in the process. How could it not be, as it transends just the college search process. When my son was a running back of course I took pride when he was named the starting running back. When he performed in the jazz band and was given first chair, how could I not be proud. These are his achievements for sure. But, as someone else eluded to, as his parents, we set the stage for his success.

However, having admitted that ego is involved is not a damning admission because, as with most, in the end I simply wanted him to select a school that would make him happy and provide him with the skills he needs to make the next step into the career of his choice. That he has done.

That he did not choose the school I would have chosen for him is, for me, proof that acknowledging that parental ego is involved is not the same as having to feed that beast.

By Kjofkw (Kjofkw) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 11:27 am: Edit

I'm just a researcher at heart....and frugal to a fault. I spend hours researching a camera or computer purchase. There's no way I could let the college search process be left to chance, without a lot of research. Given that we are paying the majority of the bill, it is equally important to us as to my son. It naturally became a team project (including dad and son). While more input brings more insight -- it also brings more discussion and compromise, making the decision harder, but hopefully more informed.

By Driver (Driver) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 11:33 am: Edit

I agree with the finding another nest concept. It was so different when I left home.

By Angstridden (Angstridden) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 12:35 pm: Edit

Yes Driver..When I went to college, my Mom told me where I was going! No discussion!
I dont recall any tears on her part either..LOL

By Reasonabledad (Reasonabledad) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 01:29 pm: Edit

I agree with Texdad's original post but with some additional points. First, it seems we all want our kids to go on to the next stage of life, to be happy, and also to get a great education. For most of us there is a very significant financial burden associated with achieving these goals. But in addition, there is an issue of powerlessness. At our house, whatever schools my kids pick as reach schools inevitably become more attractive to them...and the more they are reaches the less ability we have to ensure that the kids will get admitted.

So we have something critically important, very expensive, almost unavoidable, and yet beyond our power to control...this is part of the fascination. For us, a certain game-like quality has emerged, as we sift advantages and disadvantages of our kids future applications, trying to help them decide what makes more sense: more time on SAT prep, or more ECs? Harder classes or higher grades? AP tests or community college credits?

There are many possible trade-offs. For us, the main goal (which is highly motivating) is see the kids thinking and reasoning out the solutions that they want to undertake, not that we suggest. I guess we are training them to be adults, and this is a key project in the training process.

By Driver (Driver) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 02:03 pm: Edit

Angst--At least I got to make a choice! But I remember being dropped off in Boston with my suitcases on the ground and watching as my parents drove off in the van with my 6 siblings! Nothing like the clingy goodbyes I saw when delivering our daughter last year (ours was clingy too.)

By Coureur (Coureur) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 02:41 pm: Edit

1. College admissions is a complex process with many layers and variables.
2. It's important.
3. You can do tons of research and find out many things you didn't know before.
4. There is money riding on it.
5. There are real consequences to choices and performance.
6. There will be a decision, a clear outcome, at the end. So many things in life end inconclusively. This isn't one of them.
7. We love and want the best for our kids.

What's not to like about an adventure like that?

By Texdad (Texdad) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 04:42 pm: Edit

>>The college admission process is frightfully daunting. Without a full family court press, only the most motivated kids (would they all be girls?) would ever get into selective schools. >>

Yes they would all be girls!

My friends, whose kids are girls, have all been working on their resumes since the 8th grade.

By Angstridden (Angstridden) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 04:47 pm: Edit

6 siblings! Guess they were ready to drop one off!

The funny part of the college selection is how true that HOW MANY COLLEGE STUDENTS IT TAKES TO CHANGE A LIGHTBULB joke was.
We definately got a very certain sense of different colleges when D. was looking many of which agreed with that little joke!

Personally I had a hard time justifying a pricey education at most private schools ...I guess I just felt she would get as good an education if not better at our public U. And I felt my pocketbook would be happier. I guess there are some private schools which are worth the $..(gee am I opening a can of worms here) but there were many with price stickers that I just cant get.
maybe that comes from teaching in both the public and private sectors and liking public better.

By Mini (Mini) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 04:47 pm: Edit

You know, I was just thinking - except for sitting on a foundation board, I have never purchased anything even close to having a list price of $168k in my entire life! (Now mind you, we aren't paying a quarter of that, but still...) It's a scary thought! My house, purchased in 1992, cost less than half that.

Good thing I didn't think of it that way.

By Texdad (Texdad) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 04:48 pm: Edit

>>1. College admissions is a complex process with many layers and variables.
2. It's important.
3. You can do tons of research and find out many things you didn't know before.
4. There is money riding on it.
5. There are real consequences to choices and performance.
6. There will be a decision, a clear outcome, at the end. So many things in life end inconclusively. This isn't one of them.
7. We love and want the best for our kids.

What's not to like about an adventure like that?>>

Good summary. Also the love to research bit, the frugal consumer, the too much time on our hands.

Well, good luck to us all.

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