I took a picture of family game night before as realized we are coming to the end of family game night. I think we are entering the doom-and-gloom phase of parenting a teen because my older son is spending so many hours studying.

I started out, when he was one year old, being certain that he’d go to some high-flying school and be academically great.

People tell me parenting is the slow painful process of realizing your kids will not live out the dreams you have for them. My process of realization in that department was not slow. Thought it was painful: he got an Asperger’s diagnosis at age two, along with failure to thrive. And we had to force feed him to keep him from being tube fed.

So early on I accepted that he would be whoever he is going to be, and I’m just happy he’s eating. Then, somewhere between me pulling him out of school and me announcing my kids are curriculum-free, my son decided he wants to be a scientist and he wants to go to a top school for science.

He likes test taking. He thinks it’s fun.

Which gets me to right now. Hours and hours past the end of game night. On the floor of the living room, with books piled everywhere. Some people look at porn when their kids go to sleep. I look at college admissions guides.

I want to be able to help him, especially because there is no school mapping things out for him, so I feel like I need to compensate for that. But I don’t want him to know how much I’m reading about it – how much planning I’m doing. Because I don’t want him to feel pressure. I’m torn between making sure I don’t hold him back with my personal hatred of schools and tests, and making sure I don’t push him too hard with my obsessive focus on a long-term goals.

So I have my stacks of books and I’m reading The College Hook: Packaging Yourself to Win the College Admissions Game. The book basically says that freshman year of high school is when you start packaging yourself for schools. (Note: in the rest of this post, and maybe in the rest of my life,  “schools” means schools way too competitive for me to ever have thought of applying to when I was his age)

The way the book tells kids to package themselves is to start acting like an adult. The book authors don’t come out and say that, but that’s what they’re implying. You get a day job – one of those minimum wage, boring-as-hell jobs to show you are responsible. And you get an internship, like working at a lab, or working on a concert tour or designing shopping centers. Whatever you can get with your parents connections to show you are privileged ambitious.

And you decide what you want to do with your life and start doing it so that the schools feel like they are accepting a student with vision and drive and direction when they accept you.

That makes sense to me, because it’s not like kids have tons of great insight when they are 22 that they don’t have when they are 15.  Kids have enough information about themselves to give life a try.

Kids can go to Sokanu and find out what career you should be doing, and try it, and if they don’t like it, try another career. You can do that at any age, but what do you gain by waiting? As far as I can tell, nothing.

It’s weird, because I expected to think the college application process would be despicable and totally outside of anything I’d want to be doing with my life. But actually shepherding a kid through the process by furtively planning like an insane person is right up my alley.

And announcing that it’s never too early to pick a career seems fine as well. Because if childhood is about making mistakes, then the more seriously you take your actions, the more you learn from your mistakes.

Does that mean I will put more pressure on my son? Probably. But this might be the last time I admit to it.

21 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I live such a middle-class life. I don’t have connections to help my kids with, not on this scale. I have connections in my industry, but my older son isn’t interested in this industry. My younger son might be. But if he veers away from it, they’ll both have to make their way the same middle-class way I did, by starting at the bottom as an unknown, and working hard and getting key lucky breaks.

  2. Dana
    Dana says:

    My son kinda likes testing too. He says it is a good brain stretch. He’s getting ready to take the ACT for the 3rd time. Someone I know took it 10 times until she got the score she needed for a full ride scholarship to the school of her choice.

  3. Williams
    Williams says:

    I took a photo of family amusement night before as acknowledged we are reaching the end of family diversion night. I think we are entering the fate and-melancholy period of child rearing a high schooler in light of the fact that my more seasoned child is spending such a variety of hours considering.

  4. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I always liked test-taking, so I sympathize with your son. I got horrible grades as an Asperger’s kid but got great test scores so maybe not having him in school was the best thing you could do for your son’s college acceptance chances.

    As well as living in the middle of nowhere. Out of the three people I knew in high school who actually made it into Ivy League schools, one was black and had a ton of impressive extracurriculars; the other two are white and went to “normal” public schools and didn’t have any particular standout qualifications or extracurriculars (although all 3 had perfect grades and good test scores). But they were both from midwestern, very small-town, middle-of-nowhere places. The one who got into Harvard told me once that she’s pretty sure that if she wasn’t from a Kentucky rural area, she would never have gotten in. So hopefully, finding some way to emphasize your son’ farmboy upbringing would help in your his application.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Many years ago you wrote a post that unschooling was a great hook for college applications. If one has the time and resources like you do, there is no reasonable explanation for why the college application shouldn’t be stellar. The interview is the next most important thing, as is being the right “fit”.

  6. James
    James says:

    The admission system in the US sounds hellish to us Brits. I wish you well. Half of me wishes my 2 would be interested in studyling like that. I can’t imagine it ever happening.

    • Tracy M
      Tracy M says:

      Exactly my thoughts, James (re the US admission system). It sounds incredibly full-on. Am finding all these cultural differences, and their impact on lives and lifestyles, so interesting. We clearly all ‘win’ and ‘lose’ in different ways.

      I’m in the UK too, yet to my hubby’s family in New Zealand, the UK’s educational system is intense! It’s all relative, I guess.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      I dunno, James. A friend of mine got his son into Eton. Compared to the contortions my friend and his son went through – over the course of almost three years – American college admissions seem almost simple.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Well, it depends. US admissions are pretty straightforward when it comes to public universities. In CA, there is a track laid out for all high school students who wish to go to attend a state/public university.

      The admissions process for the upper tier/Ivy League + Stanford are also very straightforward. The difficulty lies in being admitted to one of these prestigious universities. More applicants than available spots at this level makes the application process more anxiety producing for parents who don’t have an easy way in, aren’t alumni, big donors etc.

      So when Penelope discusses the path towards getting her son into school, she means the top top top universities. Of course it will be an arduous path. I still think that homeschooling will afford her kids a closer look during the admissions process. They will be interested to see how her kids took advantage of the opportunities that come with homeschooling.

      There are certainly other paths one could take. Community college/dual enrollment/transfer to public university. That isn’t the path Penelope is interested in talking about.

  7. Em
    Em says:

    To become a top scientist the grad school and post doc is more important than the undergrad school. The important thing for grad admission is to have good undergrad research. State schools can have great opportunities for research for undergrads. Especially in engineering fields, an undergrad degree from Michigan or Purdue would not be at a disadvantage to one from Princeton or Penn.

    • INTJ Professor
      INTJ Professor says:

      Research as an undergraduate is key. Ask prospective schools for a list of their undergraduates’ publications.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I am guessing in 3 years they will be ready to start getting applications ready to turn in to their top schools. The book she referenced is already nearly ten years old, might be obsolete.

  8. ssk
    ssk says:

    I think this whole post exists to brag about a $5000 job because if someone could get paid that frequently (not happening unless you’re Hillary Clinton selling favors) they’d be mega rich. Also, did your son dye his hair? Looks light here. Good luck with college applications. I think he’ll do great at any school if he’s motivated as you say he is. I also think given his upbringing he may not want to stray far from home. Look into better science schools near you.

  9. sdsd
    sdsd says:

    I think this whole post exists to brag about a $5000 job because if someone could get paid that frequently (not happening unless you’re Hillary Clinton selling favors) they’d be mega rich. Also, did your son dye his hair? Looks light here. Good luck with college applications. I think he’ll do great at any school if he’s motivated as you say he is. I also think given his upbringing he may not want to stray far from home. Look into better science schools near you.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Homeschooling is gaining traction. Colleges and universities say they would like to see more homeschoolers apply. It makes sense to me that they would want to simplify, streamline, and make transparent their requirements for admission for homeschoolers. Evidently, they’ve got a ways to go based on this post.

  11. peter burg
    peter burg says:

    I think this whole post exists to brag about a $5000 job because if someone could get paid that frequently (not happening unless you’re Hillary Clinton selling favors) they’d be mega rich. Agree with this. but if we can.. then its good

  12. Armand
    Armand says:

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  13. Michelle
    Michelle says:

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