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College Admissions on...

College Admissions on Walden Pond

I’ve written several articles on stress, college, and kids recently with the result that my stomach is constantly tied in knots. Not so my college-age son.

As I was finishing the article on the lack of play in kindergarten, how that produces stressed-out teenagers who get further stressed out by the college search, I would shout out to the Snapper, “Are you stressed out yet?” And he would say calmly, “Nope.”

George says of the Snapper, “He’ll never die of a heart attack.”

Nor, I’m guessing, from college admissions stress.

We had the “junior year meeting with the guidance counselor” a few weeks ago. In preparation I was asked to write an essay about my son, which I did and then promptly left at home. The guidance counselor, herself a pretty stressed out individual, pursed her lips and looked amazed that something so important could have slipped my mind. 

So that was the opening of the meeting.

After a few minutes of polite chit chat during which she tried to recover from my parental carelessness, she asked the Snapper where he wanted to go to college. I turned and looked at him. He was in full male, teen repose: slouched all the way down in the chair, sitting on the base of his spine with his arms folded across his chest. He shrugged his shoulders as much as he could and said, “I don’t care.”

She tried to rally. This is, after all, a school district where Georgetown is considered a safety school. 

She said, “Well, what would you like to study?”

He said, “I don’t care.”

It was beginning to sound like that Maurice Sendak book about Pierre who didn’t care and so was eaten by a lion. I wondered if she’d read it and briefly considered asking her but she was already dually unimpressed with me.

She asked the Snapper, “Well, what do you like to study now?”

He varied his response and said, “I don’t like any of it.”

Those kids who take Adderal so they can stay up all night to get A+ in their AP courses? Not my son. He knows he can easily score a B in those courses with time left over for his girlfriend, football, rugby, and eight hours of sleep. He’s a happy kid. Personally I think this makes him a successful young man, but I am not a guidance counselor.

She had reached her personal limit. She said, “How can someone with grades as good as yours and test scores as good as yours not care?” she exploded.

I got up to find her a cool compress and while I searched I explained to her, “He really doesn’t care where he goes to college as long as they have really good Division One sports and good-looking women.”

She closed out the meeting twenty minutes early. On the way out I suggested to the Snapper that he might not want to ask her to write a recommendation.

Even my low key parents are concerned about his ennui. Every once in awhile I’ll ask him, “Are you a disaffected teenager?” But we both know it’s a joke. The real reason he is not engaged in the college search is because he wants to go to LSU and we won’t let him. The reasons are varied. I don’t want to pay for airplane commuting in this economy. And, if something happens, I want him to be able to come home quickly and easily. 

The Snapper doesn’t want the same thing.

George is more direct. He grew up in Louisiana and is intimately familiar with LSU. Having the Snapper become a devotee of the LSU football team is one thing. Having him go there and engage in the extensive partying that surrounds the football team is another. He simply says, “You’re too smart for that school.”

But it’s what the Snapper wants. And because he can’t have it he doesn’t want anything else.

When I was his age I, too, had my heart set on a certain college. It was a small liberal arts college several hours away with a focus on foreign languages. It had a program that sent students abroad for all of junior year and placed them with international businesses. I flunked math and science non-stop but I excelled at languages. I adored French civilization courses. This college offered me everything I wanted.

My parents said no.

They had too many kids and even with financial aid, it wasn’t doable. That was November of my senior year. The following March I still hadn’t applied anywhere. It wasn’t so much that I had dug my heels in as it was that I couldn’t conceive of going anywhere except my dream college. Finally, in April, my parents dragged me to a local college where my dad had gone. I don’t know that I actually filled out an app—I went down and met with some college buddy of my dad’s and they send me a letter of acceptance. It turned out all right. It was also a small liberal arts college, I had fantastic professors, I was very involved in activities and I even studied in France.

But my heart was never in it.

My parents said no in part because they couldn’t afford it but also because they didn’t want me being away. Two years later they sent my sister away to the college she wanted. I got over it but I’ll never forget it.

So why am I dragging my feet on the Snapper’s choice? 

I know now there are many ways of being happy. I know now that even if you’re thwarted you can find your way to doing something you love. I know now that good things can come out of not so great circumstances. I should also know by now that you cannot make choices for your kids no matter how much more you know than them. 

When I eventually went to Europe to study, I spent a happy weekend in a small apartment on a mountaintop in Switzerland, reading Thoreau’s Walden Pond. His words still hang on my bedroom wall today: “If a man advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the world he has imagined, new worlds will open up for him.”

I guess it’s time I take the roadblocks away and let him walk on down in the direction of his dreams. I’ll miss him.

But at least his guidance counselor will be happy.

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