Tag Archives: PSAT

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.



2 Sep

“Next year there is going to be lots of pressure.”

My daughter sits on my bed as she says this, her long hair damp from the evening shower she just took.  She’s talking about the upcoming academic year.  Her profile is blurry because I don’t have my glasses on.  I put down the book I’m reading – Lit by Mary Karr, an engrossing memoir about overcoming alcoholism and finding God – and squint at her.  I’m too tired to get my glasses on my bedside table so I continue to look at her features made fuzzy by extreme myopia.

There is silence as my mind ineptly casts about what to say.  If this were a sit-com, the mother would say something witty and wise, the daughter would look up and smile, they will both laugh, maybe share a hug, and the camera will fade to a cheery back-to-school commercial.  But here a long silence hangs between us because I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how to handle that kind of pressure.  Things were different in my day.

She’s right about junior year.  From all accounts it’s going to be hard.  AP classes, PSAT testing, SAT I testing, SAT II subject testing, the pressure to bring up or maintain grades, excel in extracurriculars, these components collectively gather force to bear down on any 16-year-old with dreams of attending a competitive college.

Then there is peer pressure.  Because few adolescents know how to handle stress, they salve their own insecurities by gossiping and making derogatory remarks about each other’s academic abilities.  Or they play mental games to puff up their own talents to “psych out” rivals (some are surprisingly sophisticated players at this).  In an ideal world my daughter can ignore all this but even that takes tough mental fortifications.  No one wants to be a target.

Maybe because I am tired and I’m mourning the passage of summer, but wise and comforting words elude me.  I just stare at her as the silence rolls on between us.  It’s not an uncomfortable silence but as a mother, I feel compelled to help her or “fix it” for her.  Tonight I’m all out.

Finally I open my mouth and say lamely, “It’s late.  Maybe you should go to bed.”  She shuffles off to bed and I lean over to turn off the light.  A sneaky suspicion that I’ve bypassed some opportunity sits uneasily with me.

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