College Admissions

Source: NY Post, Aug 2013

Though I worked for 15 years as an independent college-applications counselor all over the United States and Europe — with students whose parents thought nothing of flying me in every weekend to try to make Harvard say yes — nowhere was the college-admissions race more competitive than in New York City.

WRITE STUFF: For a fee of $7,500, Lacy Crawford would help the sometimes indifferent children of wealthy New Yorkers write their college-entry essays.

WRITE STUFF: For a fee of $7,500, Lacy Crawford would help the sometimes indifferent children of wealthy New Yorkers write their college-entry essays.

Here the frenzy is amplified by money and power as it only can be in New York; college admissions are the culmination of a scramble that begins with nursery school. Here, too, the opportunities for obsessive parents to break a student’s heart seem sharper than anywhere else.

The college list will be drawn up no later than sophomore spring, and it will include only trophy schools — the Ivy League, Duke, Stanford — selected not for fit but according to where the parents have influence. If a parent went to a college, it’s a “legacy school,” and it goes at the top of the list. If they know a trustee, that’s in Position No. 2. And so on down the line.

By junior spring, the “early decision” school is chosen, meaning a single application will be made by Nov. 1 with the promise that the student will attend if admitted. Statistically, this is the best chance a student has of acceptance at top schools, and it’s not a problem to apply so early for students who have had years to tour their choices and who don’t have to fill out financial-aid forms.

She, like so many others, was dumb-struck, devastated, when it didn’t work out. (This is why, year after year, new clients kept calling: They hear the horror stories of wonderful kids who got in nowhere.)

These parents haven’t anticipated that college-admissions officers might be able to hear the hollow pretense of the packaged student, the shellacked essays full of an editor’s semicolons but lacking a heart.

But her real success was in giving the admissions officers the kind of honesty that is harder and harder to find in these days of tiger parenting. And, I like to think, in clearing a path to her own life, she graduated and became an apprentice gardener with the city Parks Service. She’ll have to work her way up to Central Park, her own front lawn, but she is finally doing what she wants to do.

This is the biggest secret to success in the college applications madness: It’s not about getting kids in. It’s about allowing them to grow up.

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