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Growing Up

15 Jan

Our local high school is known for its competitiveness, having been ranked twice as the top public high school in New Jersey.  The academic workload is heavy and close to half of the student body takes Advanced Placement courses.  The average SAT score is about 300 points above the state’s average.  No doubt the reputation of the high school has kept real estate prices from nose-diving as young families continue to move in for the schools.

Since freshmen year the students have understood the academic stakes involved.  Some underclassmen feel no compunction asking seniors about their grades and coursework as if to benchmark their own progress.  A junior boy whom my daughter didn’t know had asked her once point blank where she was applying.  After recovering from shock at his audacity, she brushed him off with her usual song-and-dance routine about not talking about colleges.  He threw up his hands as if offended and channeled Steve Martin: “Well, excuuuse me!”

It’s not just the kids either.  On Back to School night in late September, my daughter was approached by an unknown Chinese man in the school hallway who asked her where she was applying to college.  She wasn’t going to discuss her college choices with friends, let alone strangers, so she mumbled something about not having decided yet.  Since she is not an artful dissembler, I don’t know whether he believed her or not but he remarked that it was getting late in the application process, shouldn’t she have decided by now?  She felt awkward and uncomfortable.  The next day, a friend said to her, “So I see you met my father.”

So with this striving, achievement-oriented profile in mind, I didn’t know what to expect when early college notifications came in last month.  I have been pleasantly surprised and gratified by the supportiveness the seniors have shown each other, at least on Facebook.  When someone posts about a college acceptance, the congratulations usually roll in within minutes.  (Shows how often and how long they stay on FB).  They may use a combination of exclamation marks, all-cap lettering, or emoticons to emphasize their excitement:

“CONGRATZ!  SO HAPPY FOR U!”

“U DESERVE IT! :)”

“SO PROUD OF YOU!”

After all the competing and achieving, it’s heartening to see the students come together, cheer on one another’s successes, and to feel happiness for others.  For those who got deferred or rejected, students offer support and encouragement, which is usually done in person.  In four years they have grown up and matured, no longer little boys and girls.

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What’s Next

9 Jan

Last Saturday night we ate dinner at a local restaurant, the kind where the tables are crowded against each another and guests cannot move their chairs without bumping into someone else’s chair.  In such tight quarters, it is hard not to overhear conversations so I heard one woman say, “Oh yes, she got into Villanova University.  Early action.”

My ears perked up right away, like a hound dog that has detected the scent of its quarry.  Her friend gushed her congratulations.

“Thank you.  Unfortunately she didn’t get into Columbia,” the first woman continued, to which her friend mumbled something I couldn’t hear.

I acted nonchalant, slicing my panko-crusted tilapia in a deliberate fashion as if I were loath to rush through the meal.  Hoping that I was being discreet, I turned my head a few degrees to look at their table.  They were a foursome, two middle-aged couples out on a double date.  One woman was a thin blonde with medium length hair that appeared freshly coiffed and styled.  Her friend was a brunette; both were dressed for a casual evening of dining in the suburbs.  They looked at me and I turned my head away.

Even though the college admissions rat race is over for us, I’m still fascinated by this topic because of all that it embodies about what is prized in our culture – competition, achievement, upward mobility, social status, opportunity, economic security, dreams for our children to do better (or, in this faltering economy, for them not to do worse.)  So I will continue to mine this subject for any nuggets of insight, wisdom, or humor.  Since the next several months will see my daughter finish high school and prepare to enter college, I will also write about being the mother bird that is getting ready to ease the baby bird out of the home nest.  So dear faithful readers, I hope you will stick around for the journey.

The Postman Cometh

16 Dec

I heard her running down the hall, her slippered feet slapping against the wooden floor.

“Is the postman here?” I inquired.  But I already knew the answer.

She nodded, her face tense, and we both race to get the mail.  Stuck amongst my copy of Poets & Writers, our local newspaper and junk mail was a priority mail envelope with Barnard College’s return address.  This was it.

She tore open the envelope, took out a black folder with the name of the college printed in large, white letters on the front.  With nervous fingers, she opened the folder and her eyes anxiously scanned the letter:

“Congratulations!  On behalf of the Committee on Admissions, I am pleased to inform you that you have been admitted to the Barnard College Class of 2016.”   

Screams.  Hugs.  Jumping up and down.  Phone calls to family.  Phone calls to friends who have walked alongside us through this long process.  Email to guidance counselor.  Texts to friends.  No dinner.  Takeout night.  Facebook.  Accepting everyone’s good wishes.  Savoring the moment.

From the start she was attracted to Barnard.  In the middle of the campus tour in August of 2010, she leaned over to me and whispered, “I like this school.”  From then on, every college we visited was compared against Barnard.  She likes the small liberal arts atmosphere of a women’s college with access to Columbia University’s classes, professors, and resources.  The curriculum allows her flexibility to explore different disciplines without having to take required core courses.  The New York City location allows for plenty of opportunities for internships and volunteering.  Columbia University’s Chinese language courses are known to be rigorous and thorough.  For her, it made complete sense to apply early decision.

In case anyone is wondering, I plan to continue with this blog in the new year and write about the rest of the journey from acceptance to matriculation from the point of view of a parent.  I remain fascinated by college admissions and all things higher education, so I hope that you will continue to walk alongside me on this journey.

Thanks, and have a merry Christmas, a happy holiday, and a joyful new year.

Waiting for the Postman

15 Dec

My daughter’s First Choice College has mailed out its acceptance and rejection letters so it all falls on the trusty United States Postal Service to deliver good or bad tidings to our house.  Any day now.  The College has been cagey about when it mailed out its notices, only saying that everyone will hear by the end of this week, which could mean Saturday.  Not for the first time I complain to anyone who will listen, “That’s so 20th century.  Why can’t they do it like everyone else, electronically?”  I suppose they are trying to help the Postal Service stay in business.

Since last Thursday December 8, several colleges have notified their early decision applicants, mostly through their websites.  Thursday was Cornell University and Columbia University; Friday was University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College and Washington University in St. Louis.  This week, more students found out their fates: Brown University, Duke University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Vassar College, Georgetown University, Tufts University.  To those who got in, hearty congratulations, and to those who did not, please believe that you will end up where you are supposed to be.

It’s been fascinating to watch how news of acceptances trickle out, or rather, in this social media age, how with one tap of the “Return” button, information gets blasted out into cyberspace for all to see at once.  No more calling up your friends to tell them – that’s so 20th century.  My daughter keeps her Facebook page on while doing homework and refreshes it periodically.  Ever so often she yells out to me: “So-and-So got into Such-and-Such!”  Friends then post their congratulations on the admitted student’s page.  By contrast, the pages of the ones who did not get in are silent.

Meanwhile, we are keeping an eagle eye out for the postman this week.

Welcome | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

8 Dec

Acceptance letters have come a long way.  This is what my daughter found in her inbox today:

Welcome | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

 

Correction

8 Dec

I have to correct something I wrote yesterday.  My husband informed me last night that he did not check off the Asian box when he applied to college because he did not want to be evaluated against other Asian Americans, not because he considered himself Caucasian.  He did not check off the Caucasian box.  My bad.

Asian: To Check or Not To Check

7 Dec

When I read Jesse Washington’s revealing article “New Asian Strategy: Don’t Check ‘Asian,'” I found myself nodding with a sense of recognition.  He writes that many Asian American college applicants, especially those from mixed heritages, are declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications for fear of being discriminated against.  In the story he interviews some applicants who chose not to check off the Asian box because of a pervasive belief among Asian Americans that they are not being evaluated individually but against each other.  Studies have shown that Asian Americans need higher test scores than applicants of other ethnicities to gain admission to the top colleges.

For those reasons, I advised my daughter not to check off her race on the Common Application, especially since it was optional.  Her last name is not obviously Asian-sounding either; she wrote about getting in touch with her Chinese heritage in her personal essay so it’s moot.  And when she goes on interviews, her ethnicity becomes immediately obvious.  But my motivation is the same as that of some of the candidates interviewed for the article.

My husband, who is also of Chinese descent, said that he did not check off “Asian” either when he was applying to colleges because he did not want to be evaluated against other Asian Americans.  He declined to check any boxes.

I suspect that when colleges select their class, it is a nuanced exercise.  I once heard a talk given by the dean of college admissions of an elite midwestern university, who spoke to parents at our high school about how top colleges put together a class.  Because there are many more eligible candidates than there are spaces, a college has to do the hard job of paring down the final list of acceptances.  He gave an example: if there were too many football captains in the pool, they would cut a percentage of football captains and put them on the wait list.  The same holds true if there were too many pianists, violinists, tennis players, or those from one region of the country and so on.  He didn’t say it but it’s not hard to imagine a college needing to cut back on the number of qualified Asian applicants to maintain the college’s vision of racial balance and diversity on campus.  As one interviewee in the article puts it: “…a lot of Asians, they have perfect SATs, perfect GPAs, … so it’s hard to let them all in.”

I’m interested in hearing from readers: what would you advise your child to do?

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