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The Coast Guard is Calling

30 Sep

The powerful beams of spotlight swept across the black churning water and revealed the yacht bobbing on the waves.  The sound of thumping helicopter rotors could be heard above the roar of the ocean waves.  A stentorian and authoritative voice boomed out over the loudspeaker, announcing clearly to all on board,

“This is the United States Coast Guard.  Do not attempt to move your vessel.  Repeat.  Do not…”

I smile at the memory.  When we first watched X-Men: First Class (out on DVD, highly recommended) in the movie theater, I had burst out laughing at this point, which was an incongruous response because the scene was tense and suspenseful.  I had nudged my daughter in the elbow and in the dark of the movie theater I could see her smile at our shared inside joke.  Meanwhile, the action on screen continued.  Were the bad guys going to escape?  Is this where Magneeto and Professor X finally meet?

Weeks before seeing X-Men, the Coast Guard had called.  The caller ID flashed “College Admissi” and I recognized the area code to be from the Philadelphia area.  My heart skipped a beat as I thought wildly, was it the University of Pennsylvania calling to recruit her?  Hey, I’m allowed to dream.  I was up to my elbows washing dishes and so I yelled for my husband to pick up.  My daughter was still eating her dinner.

“Yes…who shall I say is calling?” he asked.  After listening, he handed the phone over to her.

“It’s the Coast Guard,” he said.  He could have said that she was not available but it seemed bad form to lie to the Coast Guard.  My daughter shot us a quizzical frown and took the phone.

“Hello?” she tentatively inquired, her usual high pitch voice went up a higher notch.  After a brief pause, she said,

“I haven’t really thought about it.”  Meanwhile my husband and I started to giggle.

“Okay…you can…” she replied to another question and proceeded to give her email address.

“Okay, bye,” she said and hung up.  The three of us collapsed with mirth.

We laughed not at the idea of serving our country.  We laughed because we couldn’t imagine her going through the grueling physical training required at the Coast Guard Academy or other service academies.  My daughter is singularly athletically ungifted, having the misfortune of inheriting my lack of athletic ability (there are incriminating home movies of me coming in last in school races).  As a baby, she was perfectly content to sit and play with her toys while other babies were eagerly crawling, scooting, and exploring their surroundings.  She was also a late walker.  Why walk when you can be carried everywhere?

The Coast Guard Academy requires a recommendation from the gym teacher in addition to two academic recommendations (yes, she checked).  Admission is highly competitive with a low 17% admissions rate but unlike West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, or the Merchant Marine Academy, applicants do not need a nomination from their Senator.  Tuition for all four years of education and training is free, courtesy of the federal government and upon graduation cadets have to serve five years.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to obtain a first class education and to be assured of a job upon graduation.

Too bad she can’t take advantage of it.


We Want You. Maybe.

10 Feb

“You’ve been selected!”

“You’ve impressed us.”

“We’re interested in you.”

“You’ve caught our attention.”

Flattery will get you everywhere.  Apparently that’s what the colleges are hoping for when they send marketing emails with these kinds of gushing statements in the subject line.  I had forgotten that my daughter had put down my email address on the PSAT form in October and now that the PSAT results had been released in mid-December, the colleges are sending information to her.  They’re flooding my in-box, several a day, even on weekends.  As they stream in, I’ve been madly forwarding them to her.  Just to keep organized, she created a separate folder for all these emails.

“Have you looked at any of the colleges yet?  Do any of them interest you?” I asked her eagerly.  Ok, perhaps I’m a little more excited than she is.  Some of the colleges looked intriguing to me.

Because she has been busy with schoolwork and tests, she hadn’t looked at any of the emails yet.  At my slightly disappointed look, she said, “Mom, just because they send you an email doesn’t mean you’ll get into the school.”

She’s right.  She and her friends know that colleges send out these recruiting materials but it doesn’t mean they will admit you when you apply.  The New York Times in conjunction with the Chronicle of Higher Education addressed this issue in an article by Mr. Eric Hoover published on November 5, 2010 called “Application Inflation: When is Enough Enough?” The article mentions that colleges buy names of students whose standardized test scores and grade point averages fall within certain ranges.  Nowadays, the College Board sells 80 million names to 1,200 colleges at 32 cents a name.  You do the math.  (I had to open an Excel spreadsheet since my handy-dandy solar-powered calculator couldn’t handle all the zeros).  Ka-ching!

They’ve been doing this since my generation applied to college except back then they used snail mail.  My husband recalls that Harvard sent him a letter encouraging him to apply to the college, which he did.  He was rejected.  He remembers feeling miffed, thinking, “Well, why did you ask me to apply?”  Some things have not changed in thirty years and Mr. Hoover interviews recent students in his article who have similarly felt the sting of rejection after being targeted by a college’s marketing department.

Still, it’s hard not to fall for the marketing come-ons, especially since they so cleverly play to the teenager’s ego (and by extension, said teenager’s mother’s ego).  My daughter admitted that it made her feel good to read the colleges’ adulatory acclamations about her academic accomplishments, (“You’re a successful student!”).  She felt encouraged, and it feels nice to be desired and pursued.  Who knows?  When she finally gets around to reading some of the emails, she may want to visit some of the schools.  Meanwhile, it’s best not to read too much into anything.  They want you…maybe.


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