Parental Preparations to Secure a Place in a Prestigious College

Competition for places in highly regarded universities is increasingly ferocious. In this 1940 word essay in the New York Post, former college admissions counselor Lacy Crawford explains the admissions process from the applicant’s point of view but raises some issues over whether forcing one’s way into a school is the best course of action. As usual, I’ve summarized the points I want to use later:

College admissions are the culmination of a scramble that begins with nursery school.

For many children of the wealthiest parents, the college admissions process begins when a child is 2, with hiring a consultant to deliver nursery-school acceptances for the finest kindergartens.

Once in school, if the child is slow in any subject, parents hire tutors. If the tutors fail, the parents will find a learning specialist who agrees to identify a deficit in the student’s capabilities (in other words, to label the child as learning disabled) after which the parents will force the school to exempt the child from certain obligations, so she doesn’t have to study e.g. maths or do timed tests.

The college list will be drawn up no later than sophomore spring, and it will only include trophy schools – ivy league, Duke, Stanford – selected not for fit but according to where the parents have influence. If a parent went there it’s a ‘legacy school’ and it’s on the top of the list. If they know a trustee, that’s number 2 etc.

By junior spring, the ‘early decision’ school is chosen, meaning a single application will be made with the promise the student will attend if admitted.

The summer before a student’s senior year, the parents work for a golden ticket – a recommendation from a trustee of the first choice school – while the student interns at an exclusive institution (a neuroscience lab or a political office) or performs community service in a far-flung location (building schools in Bangladesh).

After these 15 years, the student finally has to do one thing by herself – write the actual application with an essay in her own voice. This is something which they can’t hire someone else to do because the college admissions officer can usually identify an essay which is technically perfect but has no spirit as the work of a more polished author than the student.

The trustees letter can also be a curse. Some trustees use secret code to tip the dean of admissions that she felt obligated to write the letter for social reasons and does not really have faith in the child’s abilities.

Of course, for the seriously rich the essay is not going to matter if the child’s father donated a building to the school.

The one thing which is really missing from this process is whether college, which is going to be another struggle, is the best option for the child. If a person needs such a high level of help to qualify for admission, perhaps their talent lies elsewhere and their lives would be much richer if they were to pursue something less appealing to their parents but more suited to their characters.

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