Cue the Fireworks: My Kid Applied To College

Bouncing between the Harris Pence debate and a tennis match from the French Open, I watched my kid hit SUBMIT on a college app last night. We fist pumped. It felt like a moment.

The Nov. 1 early application deadline, I suspect, is wreaking havoc in a couple million households across the country right this minute.

What I want to say, having watched Georgia go through it and now Claire, is: Something beautiful is being formed in the dumpster fire that is senior fall. Regardless of outcome, the college application process itself can force the kind of growth parents dream of.

Here’s 5 reasons why:

Making decisions is hard.

Imagine a heap of flea market jewelry where each piece is tangled in some way around another. SAT or ACT? Greek, Greek-lite or anti-Greek? Early action or early decision? Our kids decide. But then a cool older cousin or trusted teacher points out a new wrinkle and they un-decide. They scour College Confidential and rogue Facebook pages looking for some bit of truth they can trust. Decision fatigue is real. How many of us have the patience to separate each chain, bracelet and granny brooch?

Needing a lot of money is stressful.

Your kid is about to be the central figure in a shockingly expensive venture — with little visibility into what your family can bear. What percentage of your family’s savings is at stake? What kind of support did or will his siblings need? What are the chances of getting need-based financial aid or a merit scholarship? Is it O.K. to want a private education or is that greedy and unnecessary? And the doozy of all doozies: Is it always worth it?

Self-reflection is a mind-bender.

What are you good at? What was meaningful about your quarantine experience? What should the admissions committee know about you? If this doesn’t seem all that dreadful, ask yourself the same questions. Are you shrugging? Grimacing like that toothy emoji? Recently when a friend of my daughter’s asked for help with an essay, I was tempted to suggest he write: “I don’t know anything; that’s why I need to go to college.”

Project managers are made, not born.

Humans are built for many things, but most of us live and die without learning to pilot a process this complex. Just how many items are on the average college application checklist? Let’s see: transcripts, recommendations, biographical info, resume, personal statement, supplemental essays, standardized tests, application fees. Next up, the harrowing process of securing financial aid. What happens if you leave a field blank? Will you ever know? Which brings me to the cloud of anxiety surrounding the whole thing.

College fear is based on a lie.

The lie is about consequences. The lie says this is a binary moment: You’re off to greatness or you’re doomed. The lie says there is no other way to get the life you want than by going to University of Stretch Dream Reach. That’s why they want it so bad.

But in all cases, for as long as we live, it is damn near impossible to know in advance if getting what we want is a good thing or a bad thing. Look at divorce rates. Or job satisfaction ratings. Some subset of kids are miserable and uninspired on every campus in America, even those dreamy dream schools, and plenty of people are thriving at schools with acceptance rates near 100 percent.

You couldn’t have convinced me of this in April 1985. I sobbed in my parents’ driveway, a rejection letter dangling from each hand. Four months later, I limped off to the only college that accepted me, and I love my life.

From the bureaucratic minutia to the deep introspection, submitting a college application is possibly the biggest achievement of your kid’s life to date.

Be warned, when you try to celebrate the litany of achievements a completed application represents, your kid will say the horrible thing they all believe: “None of it matters if I don’t get in.” Celebrate anyway. Leave a card on his pillow. Make a toast. Take her for fro-yo. Tell every high school senior you know this most-encouraging truth: making decisions, weighing fiscal demands, understanding yourself, managing a hundred to-dos, overcoming your worst fears — this is the stuff of greatness. This is, in fact, exactly the way to get the life you want. So, someone, please make the bumper sticker: MY KID APPLIED TO COLLEGE.

Kelly is the bestselling author of four books as well as the host of Tell Me More on PBS and the podcast Kelly Corrigan Wonders.

New York Times bestselling author, host of new podcast: Kelly Corrigan Wonders and PBS show: Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store