College Admissions-Go-Round

Sometimes, despite all my fretting and worrying about the future, it will still smack me on the back of the head and scream, “Gotcha!”

As late as six months ago, if someone had said, “Dude, you’re going to be far more concerned about where your son’s going to college than you were about your own,” I would have looked puzzled and replied, “My son’s going to college?”

Note: My son is a high school junior.

Yes, I am that obtuse.

Sometime last year, the Bun had taken the PSATs, which I guess was a practice SAT test. I knew he took it because a couple months ago he started getting mail.

Normally, he’d get letters from the grandparents. This time, he was getting big envelopes and booklets from universities. Big-name universities. Universities I’ve heard of whose sports teams make the police blotters as often as ESPN. Universities with reputations that made me stop and look at the address label, because there was no way in hell they meant to send it to our house. Tech schools that used to be featured in ’80s comedies starring Val Kilmer and the cast of “Revenge of the Nerds.”

college admissions yale harvard letters

“Son, have you been studying again?”

I knew the Bun was smart. His grades are great, he’s hard-working, and he’ll ask me questions as if he thought I was intelligent (all right, maybe not that smart). His last question about the origins of “quad,” as in the field between buildings on campus, led to a discussion of quadrangles, and how they’re different from rectangles. Before that, it was about ways to create a parabolic mirror.

“Is this for school?”

“No, I just wanna make one.”

[Pause] “Oh.”

The notion that he could go to a school that did not have as part of its name the words “community college” in it was the father’s first sign that he should look into what it will take to get him there.

Which was why we spent last week touring two universities: Middle of the State University (MSU) and Eastern part of the State University (ESU). The names have been changed because, despite his dad’s inbred cynicism, the Bun wants to apply there.

Here’s what I learned:

college admissions rick springfield

#1: That Rick Springfield seems deeply unhappy with his career trajectory. Also, “formal or semi-formal wear required” to a rock concert?

You Could Play Admissions Bingo During Your Visit

After just two schools, I already have a good idea of what to expect on future visits, so I started filling in the cells on the board:

* PARTICIPATION: As in “we emphasize participation among our students.” They have 250 clubs and 30 club sports teams, and 3 orchestras. This can cause cognitive dissonance. We’re urged not to get our children involved in activities for the sake of building up his application, but those activities are exactly what they’re using to judge our children.

* EGO BOOSTS: Any statements that make it appear the child is more important than the university. MSU was blissfully free of this, but ESU gave us a big blast of it in the face. The students were reassured, in long, rolling cadences that would have had Martin Luther King taking notes, that “today is a celebration of you and your lives,” and that seeking admission into college was “not a process with a logical end, but a journey full of self-celebration and full of introspection.”

If I wanted to celebrate my child and give him introspection, I would give him a bill for 17 years of upkeep and an easy repayment plan.

* SKY’S THE LIMIT: One admissions counselor reassured the students that “your potential is limitless.” When we’ve heard that before, we would add, “I want to be a 6-foot-9 NBA player.”

* TUITION JOKE: “Under some of your chairs, you’ll find a coupon for a free year’s tuition!” Manners prevents me from repeating my response.

* CHILD’S BEST COMEBACK: So your children can play. The winner was Bun’s response to a long monologue about how to make the college search easier on the parents. When the admissions official concluded with “If I can tell you one thing to make it stress-free,” my son said softly, “You’re not getting into ESU.” The pupil is learning from the master.

* HOLISTIC: For the free space in the center, as in, “we take a holistic approach to denying your child admission.”

I’m sure I’ll find more as the summer wears on.