Friday, November 4, 2011

The College Game is Flat

My daughter is beginning the college application process.  Mountains of college catalogs are filling the mailbox on a daily basis.  Thank goodness they are all recyclable otherwise I would really start complaining.

I am suddenly old now.  Middle age has a nasty habit of creepy up on us and turns our once happy toddlers into demonic teenagers.  I now unconsciously start my sentences just like my late Dad with “Back when I was…” It’s both frightening and thought provoking as we try to make sense of this next academic step.

As an urban kid with a set of parents one of which went to a local college at night, and the other who did not go at all, a highly competitive college was their dream.  My sister and I were pushed academically to succeed to get to “name” colleges in the 1970’s.  We weren’t necessarily in our respective high schools to have fun; they were just supposed to prepare us for the next step.  I, not being especially social in high school for a variety of reasons, happily retreated to the academic lair.  Science projects, the forensic team and the school newspaper were my “fun” activities.  I certainly went to some dances at the local boys high school but it was self-limiting. I think I lost several amplitudes of hearing only, thank goodness, and nothing more in those dark bleachers.

When my sister went off to one of the "most competitive" (according to the top right hand of the Barrons Guide),  I knew my turn was next. 

Was this all worth it?  Sure my parents proudly displayed the various stickers on the backs of their cars.  Sure I can boast that I have read Thucydides, Plato and conducted original research and eventually got into an Ivy League Med School but am I any better than friends who went to small non-competitive schools, with matching non-competitive tuitions, who worked hard and long and are probably happier?

Me and Heisenberg again with all the uncertainty.  My pretzel logic has once again taken the old 1960’s phrase “Question Authority” and turned it into “Question everything”.  I don’t know what to tell my daughter.  Be quirky “one foot across but one mile deep” and get into Harvard?  Be even quirkier and go to the University of Chicago which boasts “Kuviasungnerk” as opposed to the  ("Back when I was….") “Lascivious Costume Ball”? Go to the local community college, save a ton of money then transfer to another school to get that “name degree”? Go online and “Be a Phoenix?”  Don’t go to college at all, grow up and learn life’s real lessons?

When I used to deliver babies, I used to tell the new parents “They don’t come with instructions!”  Boy was that prophetic.

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