College application questions I never expected to answer

Kids who are applying to college this fall can’t find the same open spots that other years would be a sure bet. This will be the year of the phantom college essay: stories about what could have been and what was there once and poof gone.

At least I’m hoping that this will be the year of the phantom essay. And that the kids will be whiny, and unappealing, and that my kid will shine.

I spend late-nights reading posts from teenage boys on Reddit. One really got me: I finally told my mom I’m worried I won’t be accepted anywhere good. And my mom said, I’m worried too.

I did a double take. Is that my kid? As a homeschooler he is relatively sheltered from how much stress this college application stuff is.

Except from the stress of me, his mother, screaming at him in unfair ways. For example, in college applications, homeschool parents have to describe their homeschool philosophy. I had to describe and document my teaching approach. I wanted to write: here’s a picture of me dragging the kids through museums that I like and they don’t.

I had to describe my grading system.  WTF? My grading system is you get an A or why the fuck are we even doing this?

My son argued. I argued. Back and forth.

I lost patience. You got a fucking A in AP Art and shut the fuck up about giving yourself a B. What homeschooler gets a B from their mom? This is insane. You look insane when you try to be Mr. Ethics because you can’t tell the difference between being ethical and being a tool.

Melissa had to step in and negotiate. Everything got nicer when we had a third-party stuck in the middle between us. But I’m not sure how long we can hold on. The admissions process is so messed up during Covid that some people are advising if you were planning to apply to 8 to 12 schools then you should apply to 20 this fall.

That’s a lot of essays. A lot of dashed dreams. And a lot of cursing at my poor son.

14 replies
  1. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    That’s an interesting point about the difficulty of admission this year. It only makes sense that many more kids would have deferred admission this fall to next fall. I didn’t really think about how increasing the number of deferrals to seven times the normal rate would affect admissions this year. Talk about bad timing! And there’s still no telling whether big schools will even have students on campus in the fall.

  2. M
    M says:

    Your children will do well, they have been doing pandemic education (pandemication?) their whole lives. Many students are struggling from the isolation, working from home, or doing school online for the first time. They’re struggling to learn, or they’re putting their lives on hold and deferring.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s true that they’ve been doing pandemic education their whole lives. I worry about us being too comfortable doing that. Also, I worry I did something wrong that we have been living like we’re in a pandemic. What the hell? Another thing I worry about: how is it that I have been doing education in a pandemic for 10 years yet I am not able to sell myself as an authority? WTF? I see all sorts of people giving advice about what do to for education in a pandemic. And I still feel unsure. I got two different offers for writing books this past year. And I said no. I thought it would be stupid because Zoom is stupid and no one would listen to me and maybe I’m wrong anyway.

      Then, on another day, I have no trouble screaming at parents that I already know what they should be doing and turn off Zoom and let kids learn how they like to learn. It’s so clear to me that that would work. It was so nice for us. Then another day I lose confidence.


      • jessica
        jessica says:

        This is such a great comment. I, too, started to question if something was wrong with my long term ‘pandemication’ this year. How were we now the *norm*? LOL

  3. Maura
    Maura says:

    I like what you said about letting kids learn the way they learn best. I agree with you 1000%. I watch a good number of Elon Musk Interviews and he is constantly saying things like that, after all he’s a self taught rocket scientist. Then again, he also says: “I don’t give a damn about your degree.”
    He’d rather see high level accomplishments, unique abilities proven in a self motivated way. He wants to see the rogue individual who struck out on his own and made something happen rather than the sheep.
    But I wonder what you might recommend for my very social only child who loves, and excels at collaborative group learning and projects. I hate that I’m paying for private school this year for fourth grade and some of it is common core B.S.. I don’t like the way the teachers rail at the kids over small recess infringements that would have been normal childhood stuff when we were kids (lawsuit environment dictating children’s boundaries to protect the school) and yet I can’t give him collaborative kid learning if I homeschool. We did a co-op last year but that was only two days a week. I was thinking of starting my own homeschool co-op with more days. This could be a disaster- I don’t know how to open a co-op. Does anyone have any ideas? Penelope?

  4. Mary Kay
    Mary Kay says:

    I live your candor. That’s EXACTLY what it feels like to homeschool and i only did it for third grade. You’re right about this too- you get an A that’s why we’re going this- duh?! It’s called mastery something public schools claim to care about through tests.
    Would a gap year be a disaster ? I know some kids take an extra year before applying to college to attend a sort of high school “finishing school” in Connecticut, boarding school, to improve some area of their expertise to get into the better college for that expertise- like soccer, or stem. Any thoughts on that in general or on your own as a homeschooler and not a boarding school attendee?

  5. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Hi PT. I’m worried this blog may be entirely defunct at this point. I hope you’re all okay.

    I was just thinking of you guys because it’s college acceptance season, and so much of this blog has been focused on your sons’ journey towards college. Don’t leave us hanging.

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        I’m glad to hear you’re coming back. Slumps are par for the course these days.

        My son is coming back to Boston. He’s transferring to Berklee in the fall, accepted for voice. He’s happy about that.

  6. robert w holzbach
    robert w holzbach says:


    Don’t defunct! Followed your journey for many years. Wishing the best for your family.

    –long time reader and 9 yr homeschooling Dad

  7. Rajesh Acharya
    Rajesh Acharya says:

    one thing this article remind me of is how i was able to attain online hospitality courses via BLC Online platform which completely changed my career after series of q/a sessions with college.

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