Column: The Truth About Having A High School Senior
By Sue Moretti Rogers
On August 31, my youngest son will start his senior year at Greenwich High School. It hardly seems possible as just yesterday I was dropping my boys off at nursery school. This year I have the benefit of having recently gone through the college admissions drill with my eldest son, however, I am not under the delusion that my prior experience will shelter me from what is about to be my reality.
I will admit that I did have a very false sense of confidence when my older son was looking at schools. I was thinking that since I applied to college in the 80s I knew what to expect. What could be so different? I was wrong. There are so many additional factors with which we as Gen Xers did not have to deal. Our big media impact was the birth of MTV; we did not have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. to memorialize our actions and thoughts. We did not have to worry about our social footprints the way today’s kids do. Every week we hear stories about schools rescinding acceptances because of social media mis-steps. For example, Harvard rescinded 10 acceptances because of the students’ involvement in offensive online behavior on a private Facebook group.
We also did not have the benefit of the Common Application in the same form that it is in today. While it began forty years ago, the online version was launched in 1998. For the 2017 admissions cycle, the Common App expected 1 million students to utilize the platform to submit 4 million applications to the over 700 colleges and universities who participate. A far cry from the applications I typed on my Smith Corona electric typewriter!
There are also several different approaches to applying to a school: Early Decision, Early Action, Restricted Early Action, ED2 and the good ole – Regular Admission. And here is my favorite result – the Deferral or the Waitlist. For my older son, schools that were high-probability turned into schools that waitlisted him. The reasons range from an extremely competitive major at a particular school to a huge bump in applications (a 30% increase at one school) because it went test optional. Yes, those standardized tests that kids worry about, prep for and sweat over are now not required everywhere. In fact, over 900 colleges and universities are now test-optional.
The large number of waitlists I started hearing about a couple of years ago really bothered me and I wondered if it was a new trend. I am an active alumna and stay in contact with the Admissions office of my Alma Mater. I reached out to the school’s Senior Director who I have known for nearly 30 years and asked if this a new trend in admissions.
His response: “It isn’t a trend. It’s selectivity; look at average stats of those schools and then imagine how many kids in the WORLD have them. Then subtract legacy and special interest admits, big donor admits, art, music, and athletic admits and so on. It is simple called being selective because schools can be.” Touché!
In addition, throw in colleges having to manage their “yield” (how many of their accepted students will actually choose to attend their school). Don’t accept enough students and you are scrambling to fill your incoming freshman class. Or, maybe even more troubling, just last week nearly 500 incoming students at UC-Irvine were informed that their acceptances had been rescinded not because they had done anything wrong but because UC-Irvine had simply accepted too many students for the number of slots they had available. No wonder the waitlist has become a useful safety valve for colleges to use to hit their target yield.
So, from one “Momager” – my younger son has dubbed me his Mom Manager – to parents of rising seniors going through the process for the first time, here is my advice (and there is plenty more advice to be found online, but these are my key ones):
If at all possible, try to finish the Common App (or at the very least the personal data) before school starts. Between the rigorous academics of senior year (remember these are the last grades colleges will see and are usually the most challenging on the student’s transcript), athletics, other extra curricular and required volunteer work, there is not much time left. It may take a lot of coaxing and haranguing, but getting it done will lower the stress level in your house immensely.
Try to create a schedule for the essays and supplements and stick to it. Encourage the student to work a little bit (30 mins) on it every day. This is NOT the kind of project that an all-nighter will take care of. The earlier the drafting starts the better.
The essay should be by your student and about your student. Most admissions officers are experienced enough to spot an essay written by a parent. We as adults can not replicate the perspective, tone and voice of an adolescent. Admissions officers are looking for passion and personality – of your son or daughter – not you. For more tips on the college essay, please visit www.gegcollege.com
The most important lesson I learned the first time around was that it was my son’s opinion that mattered most. When we looked at schools all over the country, my challenge to myself was not to interject my likes or dislikes about a school into my son’s process. This was more difficult than I thought at first, but became easier the more schools we visited. You can help them ask questions and narrow down choices and even put in parameters in terms of cost or location, but in the end it is best if they own the decision. Doing so will impact their enthusiasm and sense of confidence as they start this incredible phase of their lives.
The most surprising thing I learned was that it was far harder to leave my son at school than I thought it would be. Granted, he chose to attend a school in California; that didn’t help. While I knew sending a piece of my heart out into the world would be emotional, the experience was far more difficult than I anticipated. But my son was ready and he didn’t shed a tear. He put his arm around me and said, “Mom, it’s fine.” Inside I was screaming “this is anything, but fine!” I also found an added respect for my parents who 30 years ago left their oldest daughter a mere 4 hours away with her crying face pressed against the window pane as their car pulled away. As I was driving away from the college campus, this time as a parent, I remembered that a friend had given me great advice for after the goodbye: Raise your right hand and say – I did the best that I could do and now I am done. I did just that and, with the help of a nice glass of wine, I got through the transition. And now I get to do it again. I hope that my lessons learned will make it go a little easier this time but I also know I will be leaving my second son with the same lump in my throat and will be raising my right hand one more time.
Sue Moretti Rogers is the Director of Marketing for Greenwich Education Group and the Momager of two teenage boys.