“Dear Freshman Parent,” You Need to Know THIS About Your Student

As winter break comes to a close and second semester opens, we wish you safe travels, engaging classes, healthy choices and rewarding friendships. 

This is how we started winter break five short weeks ago:

A form letter came today from the Dean for Freshman at the university where my son just completed his first semester, and I have to admit that although, at first glance, the letter appeared to be written in my native tongue, it took several readings for me to get to the bottom of what they were trying to tell me (and all the other parents).

The opening salvo:

Reading between the lines in a dean's holiday letter to freshman parents

The end of the semester is almost here and your students will be returning home for the semester break shortly. It is natural for you to want to know what grades to expect for the courses taken this semester. Although overall grades may be fine, do not be surprised to learn, that despite much effort, some grades may be lower than those received in high school.

Translation-We know that you think your child is a genius and should be earning all A’s but not so fast, because as it turns out, the world is an enormously competitive place and when you’re running with greyhounds, you may no longer be the fastest dog in the pack. So, if your child got B’s and C’s instead of A’s don’t sweat it.

Moreover, initial academic and or career choices may be changing due to newly discovered interests and a better understanding of your students’ strengths. This semester has been a time of growth, change and learning for your student.

Translation-It has come to your freshman’s attention that partying, carousing and staying up till the wee hours of the morning turn out to be much more engaging and entertaining than actually going to the library and studying. Also, it’s hard to get up for classes when you’re out all night. Your child’s freshman year dream of becoming a doctor-well it may be time to rethink that whole situation. Shockingly, it turns out that chemistry is actually really, really hard.

Your students may appear to be different people from the ones you sent off to college. You may notice them questioning and even challenging many traditional values, cherished family beliefs, parental expectations and rules once easily accepted.

Translation-Your child is probably going to be a class-A jerk when he gets home. He thinks that because he is “independent” at school he no longer needs to follow house rules. Do not expect “traditional values” such as thoughtfulness, obedience or respect to have a major impact on your freshman’s behavior.

The closing salutation:

I would like to wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year.

Translation-Oh my God these kids are insane. Thank goodness a million times that they are YOUR problem for the next month. I seriously need this break.

There is an addendum I would make to the Dean’s letter, if I may, and this is directed to the students who are soon to be homeward bound:

Dear College Freshman:

The home you are returning to is not the home you left three months ago and the parents and siblings who wept as they hugged you goodbye are not the same family you left behind. In your absence, they too have had a period of growth and change and they may chafe at your presence a bit because when you gained your independence, it turns out they did as well. For three months, there has been a certain peacefulness in their homes and from that blessed hush emerged quiet voices, those of your younger siblings who used this opening to declare themselves.

Translation-It may astonish you that even parents can evolve. You may not be the child we sent away, but neither are we the parents who sent you away. Although, he rarely had an opportunity to demonstrate it before you left, it turns out that your little brother is a delightful child with a strong, smart and interesting voice and it’s a pleasure to hear and see him blossom.

If we respect each other’s evolution we will all get along just fine.

We love you and can’t wait to see you.

“This originally appeared on Grown and Flown” http://grownandflown.com  

They also have a Facebook page you can follow.

 

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The Next Chapter

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This weekend we dropped number two son off at college. This is not my first rodeo so I was somewhat prepared for the flood of emotion that comes with this process. Despite the fact that I’ve been feeling weepy for the last week or two, the actual separation went surprisingly well, even though I did feel that familiar lump rise in my throat as we watched him walk away.

If we moms had to explain to our kids why we get misty-eyed, we’d say, or as I can only speak for myself, I’d say:

My heart is so full of love for you that it aches like a physical pain and it’s that almost unbearable fullness that brings tears to my eyes.

I will miss you and almost everything about you, your sense of humor, your long, rambling convoluted diatribes, even your closed bedroom door. But it’s not just you I’ll miss, it’s the light and life you brought into this home and your friends who also became dear to me over the years.

I will miss the way we were. Things will change between us now. We will always be mother and son but I will become an increasingly less important person to you, as it should be.

I will worry about you because I desperately don’t want you to ever feel lost or alone but I am certain that you will experience those “lost and alone” days. Everyone has them. Thinking about the times that you will not be okay and the fact that I can’t make you okay makes me terribly sad.

I am not worried that you will not succeed. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I have no doubt that you will succeed and that success will lead you further from me. Again, it is as it should be, but sad, nonetheless.

That moment when you walked away from us, we went one way and you went the other. You walked into a bright new chapter of your life where the possibilities are almost endless. I was walking away from a piece of my heart and the poignancy of that moment is not lost on me.

I know that we will all soon adjust and I will be able to see this more clearly as a beginning for both of us and not as an end and, as we drive away I look back and hope that I’ve done most things right or right enough, that you make wise choices and that fortune goes your way more often than not.

The Old College Tour

We happened to be in the Boston area for the weekend so I decided that while we were there I would take my son who is a high school junior to look at two area colleges.

We sat through two information sessions and went on two student-guided tours. It had been a while since I had visited colleges as my oldest son is now a senior in college and, truthfully my husband did most of the college visits back then.

The first information session we went to was an hour’s worth of torture so I started to ponder what improvements I would suggest to an admissions officer if I were given that chance. It was either that or pass out where I sat and I didn’t think either my son or the admissions officer would appreciate that very appealing option. What follows are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of anyone else in my family.

First, contrary to Mr. admissions officer’s misguided observation I did want to hear statistics even though I could easily read them in the barrage of paper paraphernalia scattered about the admissions office. Honestly, I came to visit your campus because I wanted to be spoon-fed the salient statistics. What I didn’t want to hear was every interesting experiment that your professors are working on. Yes, many of them are intriguing but some of them aren’t and that’s not really what I came to hear.  And, FYI an hour is just too long.  No information session needs to be longer than half an hour.

Second, I would appreciate a lot more honesty and a lot less pandering.  In both information sessions there was a long spiel given about “holistic” review of applications leading to what I think is a misleading assumption by some that no matter how low your GPA and SAT scores are you have a chance of getting into a school if your “softs” (i.e. recommendations, essays and extracurriculars) are good. Below a certain number it’s just not true.  I think they should discuss the elephant in the room.  Why can’t they JUST SAY IT? Being opaque led to a question and answer session at one school where parents spent twenty minutes asking about the alumni interview. Instead of saying it doesn’t really matter up front, the admissions person answered the questions until he finally had to admit that unless you murder the interviewer, the interview can’t hurt you and very rarely makes any difference at all. And, even if you do murder the interviewer, if you have a 2400 on your SAT, a 4.5 GPA, are a concert pianist, a talented artist, a ranked tennis player and have cured a rare disease you will be offered a spot in the class.

One information session was set up with a tag team of an admissions officer and a student. The admissions officer would ask the student if, for instance, she knew anyone who had gone abroad. “In fact I do” she would answer and then proceed to tell us about that “person.” The entire session continued in that vain. It was a veritable facsimile of Shakespearean theater, but poorly done.  It was so canned that my twelve year old bought it hook line and sinker.  Thanks, but next time I’ll go to Broadway if I want to see a show.

I just want brevity and honesty in a narrative style, with numbers.  What are you looking for in prospective students? And, why would a student want to come here?

Just the facts Ma’am,  but the honest to goodness facts.

Is that too much to ask?

The College Conundrum

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When my oldest son was applying to college my mother in law used to repeatedly ask where “A” was going to go to college. As I grew weary of the question I would flippantly reply, “Wherever they’ll take him.” Why wouldn’t X school take him?” she would ask incredulously “He’s such a nice boy.”

Now, I am launching a second son (a junior) into the college search process but since it’s not the first time I’ve done this, my vision is a bit clearer.

If you have a high school junior or senior you’re probably getting mail by the bucket load from colleges, some of which you’ve heard of and some of which are new to you.  The first time out, I was secretly awed by this flood of mail.  I tried to be cool about it but inside I was bursting. Wow, I thought, they really want HIM.  I wasn’t sure how they knew what a fabulous kid son number one was but I just figured someone had let them in on the secret.

Now I know that four years of college is a commodity and this detritus from the colleges is just a massive marketing blitz.  Colleges are trying to sell their schools.  What exactly are they trying to sell and, more importantly, what are we looking to buy? As I look at the brochures on my kitchen island certain phrases jump out at me. One college says they are, “Leading the way.”  Where exactly are we going?  Another college, Morris Catholic, tells my sixteen-year old son who has attended Jewish Day School for the last twelve years, “You are the future.”  I hope he’s someone’s future but I’m just not sure he’s their future.  Other schools are more creative: “Where leaders learn.” or “Arrive Realize Thrive” It’s a morass of pithy, pointless sayings which clarify nothing.

It’s seductive to believe that all these schools know and want your child but let me assure you that what the college actually wants is your child’s application. Think application fees and selectivity. Selectivity is a factor used to raise a school’s ranking so the more applicants, the more rejections, the more selective a school becomes and the school’s ranking rises.  It’s not personal. They don’t know your child and admissions is, after all, just a numbers game.

A friend who’s been down this road before likes to remind me of the course catalog as thick as two phone books that her son got from a top ten school along with many other pieces of mail from that school, only to later be rejected by said school. The rejection caused her son tremendous angst but at the end of the day he wound up at the right college for him and later at a terrific law school.  After all of the agita, ninety seven percent of my older son’s friends ended up at schools where they have flourished academically and socially.

So, what am I looking to buy for my number two son aside from the pithiest of sayings on the coolest brochure? First, these  are the things I know to be true; there is not only one right college for my child, there are many colleges that would serve him well. Second, it’s very hard to screw this up because most kids do really well at the schools where they end up.

The framework of what I’m looking for is a safe, nurturing place for my son to develop from an immature eighteen year old into a mature twenty-two year old, while he learns, decides what the next step will be and makes friends.  The details: big/small, sports/no sports, urban/rural, greek life/no greek life…that’s for him to flesh out.

Oh, and where is the line on the application where we tell them what a nice boy he is?

Guest Post: Don’t Blink

I’m delighted to have my friend Marlene Kern Fischer as a guest writer today.  Marlene’s oldest son is graduating from college this Friday and I asked her to share some thoughts with us. She and I graduated from college together twenty-eight years ago. Yikes!

“Don’t blink–just like that you’re six years old and you take a nap and you wake up and you’re twenty-five…Don’t blink, life goes by faster than you think.” Kenny Chesney

I hadn’t heard that song since your high school graduation but I heard it today when I stopped at Bea’s for an iced tea. I started thinking about our first trip out to St. Louis to look at Washington University (WUSTL). You had been accepted to WUSTL but we hadn’t seen the school yet. I wanted to see for myself whether it was the right college for you, so even though I hate to fly, off we went. When we were walking around Forest Park in St. Louis I thought of all the hopes I had for you in college. I guess I was thinking about what I was looking for in a college for you.

I hoped you would make good friends–some of whom might last a lifetime. I hoped you would become more compassionate, mature, and considerate of others and less impulsive. I hoped your temper would mellow and that you could learn to accept losing graciously. I hoped you would improve your housekeeping skills. I hoped you would be with people who were like-minded and that you would learn from those who weren’t. I hoped you would experience romantic love. I hoped you would find a major that interested you and that you would figure out what the next step in your life would be. Through all of it, it was my hope that you would stay connected to us.  In retrospect it was a pretty tall order but by the end of the trip I think we both felt comfortable that WUSTL would be a good place for you. Not that you might not have accomplished all those things elsewhere, but we were pleased with what we saw and felt in St. Louis.

Now, even though the song said not to blink, we blinked and quite miraculously the bill came for the cap and gown. All of those hopes I had for you have been realized to a greater or lesser degree (ok, maybe you can still use a little work on the housekeeping skills). Your transcript and diploma reflect only a small part of what you have achieved during your four years of college. I couldn’t ask for more. At graduation this week I’ll savor the moment, but only for a moment, because I have more hopes and dreams for you. And, I’ve already started working on that list.

XOXO

Mom

Advice To The Daughters I Never Had

If you haven’t read or heard about Susan Patton’s Letter To the Editor in the Daily Princetonian (link below), where have you been?

In her letter, Ms. Patton appeals to the undergraduate women of Princeton, “the daughters” she “never had,” to “Find a husband on campus before they graduate.”   She has been absolutely skewered since writing the piece.  The outsized and outraged reaction caused DP’s website to crash.

There is some truth in what Patton says, if you can wade through the overwhelming amount of self-laudatory crap. But, let’s call this piece what it truly is: a delivery system for good news about Susan Patton.  And, I think that is what most people are objecting to, not necessarily the fundamental idea, but the tone.

Patton begins by giving herself kudos for having maintained her relationship with, “her best friend from freshman year.” She alleges that at the Women and Leadership conference she attended at Princeton, the undergraduate women were avidly interested in how she and her best friend had “sustained a 40 year friendship.” Really?  Is having a long-term friendship fabulous? Definitely.  Is it a subject of rapt fascination for 20 year olds? Um, no. I’m around a fair number of college age kids and I have more than one long-standing friendship.  Not one of the twenty somethings I know, including my own children, has ever expressed a scintilla of interest in how my friends and I sustain our relationships. Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Then we get to the heart of the matter. Ms. Patton states, “I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians.  My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone.” Really?   He could have married anyone?  Anyone? I think Patton just wanted to inform the Princeton community that her sons go/went to Princeton and that her older son is married and, better yet, he married a girl who went to Princeton. The younger son’s dating potential is, according to mama, “limitless.” Oy. I hope the younger son has entered the witness protection program. Poor kid.

But, putting Ms. Patton’s self-aggrandizement aside, I think she makes a fair point. I knew people in college who made silly lists of qualities for potential dates, not too short, not too thin/heavy, brown hair/blonde hair and so on.  Susan Patton is correct that college is one of those critical times in life. Don’t make lists that confine you. Look at your classmates with an open mind. Making friends is every bit as important, if not more so, than the classes you take.  And, you never know, your best friend or your life partner or both may be sitting next to you in class.

So, here is what I would tell “the daughters I never had”: College is a fantastic place to meet someone but if you don’t meet “the one” in college don’t panic.  There’s time. Don’t say, “He’s too nice.” Nice boys generally grow up to be nice men and nice men are, well, nice. If a guy is crazy about you, put that in the plus column, bolded and highlighted.  Look for red flags and if you see them, don’t walk, run. Don’t pass up the very good for the perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. Choose someone who makes you laugh because at the end of the day you want to spend a lot of time with someone who makes you laugh. If you can’t stand to be with someone even if they have a 200 IQ or 200 billion dollars, say goodbye. It’s just not worth it.

And, I would tell my mythical daughter the same thing I will tell my real son.  You will meet the right person at the right time.  And, when you meet that person you will know, maybe not immediately, but you will know.

Trust your own judgment. I do.  And, remember dad and I love you.

http://www.dailyprincetonian.com