Octo Observations – The Stress of College Applications

It is not a very Merry Month of March. Some  are digging out from (hopefully?) a last blast of a winter snowstorm, while others are battling winds that clog up our sinuses and ears. Others are lucky enough to be basking on Florida beaches enjoying spring break. Then there are those of us “sincerely seniors” who pause to reflect, to ponder how life has morphed since we were young.

Allow me, if you please, to share a few thoughts on the topic. This morning my North Carolina daughter-in-law, who happens to be a pediatric neuro psychologist, called for a glorious catch-up chat. What began with one topic moved onto into several others which kept us on the phone for well over an hour. I love talking to Stephanie; she is interesting, full of good thoughts and, best of all, interested in us old guys. She has two daughters, one a high school junior. We soon began discussing the daunting process of applying to colleges. 

Livvie is a bright, beautiful girl, with musical and theatrical talents. She has had major roles in her school’s last three productions, but now she is stepping back backing to focus on college prep requirements.

I was startled to learn from her mom that SAT testing gurus are now insisting that applicants follow a distinct writing format. No longer is an essay judged solely on content, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Instead, it must adhere to a strict set of rules. Steph and our son have hired a consultant who specializes in how to fulfill these writing demands. Not only are college costs through the roof, but parents now have to spend additional funds to teach aspiring applicants to write a certain way. Isn’t that what high school English classes are all about?” 

Perhaps there are writing techniques that octogenarians like myself have lived their whole lives not knowing. Perhaps there are magical ways to create an articulate essay that automatically signals brilliance. Balderdash! I don’t believe that for a second, because I am convinced that grammar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary and the ability to express a thought clearly and convincingly are the keys to successful writing. But, what do I at age 8-0 know?

Steph did mention that having a tutor for writing SAT essays can be a plus when it comes to opening a door to a scholarship, an option always to be explored in the world of $60,000 to $70,000 tuition fees. I guess that in today’s highly competitive world, youngsters are pitted against each other for the opportunity to earn acceptance into a “worthy” college or university. I guess that colleges, in addition to escalating their financial demands, are determined that kids must walk through fire in order to gain admittance. I guess that finding the right school for any child has become a knock-down, drag out brawl rather than an exciting step forward into the world of academia. I am sad. And I feel sorry for all loving parents who are trying hard to guide their children through this difficult time.

I remember feeling slightly stressed in the fifties as I studied hard and took practice SAT tests. I remember being told that it was smart to apply to THREE schools. One would be considered a “reach,” the other a “probable,” and the third a “safety” school. I never knew of a fellow classmate who wasn’t accepted at the right school. We managed to survive (and still have a life), even if we were pushed to excel to the best of our abilities. And truly, we got along fine, became well educated, and have thrived for decades in this world. These days, however, no one applies to just three schools. Instead, parents are urged to have students apply to at least a dozen. Luckily not all multiple applications require individual fees, which is a blessing for parents.

Our Connecticut high school senior granddaughter is eagerly waiting to hear from the remaining schools to which she applied. There is a special app that is downloaded onto computers for students beginning the search process. Lots of information is available, including specific data about each school, number of applicants accepted, SAT, ACT requirements, etc. It is an encyclopedia of information. So far Caroline has good options thanks to cluster applications that go out via the Internet to an assortment of schools. Some respond rather quickly, while others send notices of acceptance, deferred status, or rejection. Still others, many of which are the Ivy League schools, wait until early April to notify prospective students. Except for those who opted for early decision, these last weeks of March are tense for families of seniors as they learn their fates. I ache for them. 

These last two years of high school, which should be the best of a teenager’s young life, have become a time of huge stress, not only for a student but for parents as well. Why has our society decided to turn these fledgling humans on the cusp of adulthood into frenetic, competitive, and tense members of society? Why must our society push, push, push our kids to fit into a mold that accepts a mere fraction of them into certain elite schools? I don’t get it. At the risk of sounding like a fossil, I question whether or not this college application process is fair, balanced, or good for our young people. It sounds as if it has become another opportunity for big business, and a hot nerve button of stress.

If only I weren’t an Octo-Grammy I might be around thirty years from now to observe this glorious generation of precious young people who must navigate the process of finding the right college, of being accepted and having the chance to succeed and be ready for the rest of their lives. As my mother once told me, “Don’t fret, honey. When you are fifty years old no one will give a hoot what you got on that geometry test!” She was right. I did attend a wonderful college, have never been quizzed about any high school math grade, nor have I given it a second thought in all my sixty years of being a happy wife, mom or grammy…and oh yes, a late-in-life-author!

SO, to those stressed high school juniors and seniors, please take heart. Everything works out for the best. Remember this: education may be critical, but truly, it is the person you are inside your heart that signals how well you will succeed in this world! As British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley said, “O wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind!”

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Joy Nevin (61 Articles)
Joy Nevin was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She graduated from Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, attended Connecticut College for Women for two years until she married John Nevin in 1957. Four children later, with twelve corporate moves in 20 years, the family learned flexibility. In 1990, with a nearly empty nest, Joy and John moved to Richmond, Virginia where they put down roots. Now in her eighties, Joy is the author of “Get Moving: A Joyful Search to Meet and Embrace Life Transitions” (2002) and “Joy of Retirement: Live, Love and Learn” (2015). Since 2016 she has written numerous articles for Woman Around Town on downsizing, moving to a retirement facility and her current series, Octo Observations. She is also a proud Grammy of nine, great grandmother of two…..AND forever grateful to Charlene Giannetti for supporting her passion for writing!