Location: Providence, RI
I am filled with mixed emotions as I walk around Brown’s campus. First off, I have that nostalgia that I suspect almost everyone has for their alma mater. I had four really happy years here and walking across the Quad or down Thayer Street brings back a ton of memories. I also think about the years I came back to Providence with Noah and Hannah, when the National School Scrabble Championships were held here. They were in middle school at the time, and trying to walk up to Brown’s campus from the Biltmore downtown made for one of the most satisfying parental “I told you so” moments ever. I have a notoriously bad sense of direction and I could not seem to get us up the Hill to Brown’s campus, even though I had done the walk down the hill and then back up to campus many, many times as an undergrad. Noah and Hannah were getting frustrated with my inability to navigate us there, and I explained to them that it felt like they had moved the river. “They did not move the river, Mom!” they told me emphatically, rolling their eyes at how pathetic my excuse was for getting lost. We finally stopped a woman to ask how to get up to Brown’s campus. I explained that I was embarrassed to ask as an alum who had made the walk many times. “Oh, you’re probably confused because they moved the river, “ she said. I’m sorry, what? They moved the river?! They moved the river!! Never have I felt so vindicated!
Anyway, it was great to show my kids, who were already starting to ponder what educational opportunities awaited them beyond high school, the university that meant so much to me. As they got older, I think my stock went up just a bit by the mere fact that I had gone to such a prestigious Ivy League institution, although I suspect that I could never get an acceptance letter today. What made me stand out, back in 1982, is the fact that I had no high school diploma (I chose to be an exchange student and attend a Lycee in France in lieu of senior year and graduation from a U.S. high school) – something that probably wouldn’t fly today. I enjoyed my classes at Brown, graduating with a B.A. in Psychology and absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with it … or with my life. But what I really enjoyed, and what has stuck with me the most, are the experiences I had outside of the classroom. The amazing friendships and lectures and rallies and cultural events and conversations and life lessons that Brown offered me. I then served as an alumnae interviewer for Brown, and I loved meeting the applicants and learning about all of the amazing things they had already accomplished in their young lives and all of the things they hoped and planned to do. It was those alumane interviewing experiences that spearheaded the launch of my educational consulting business, because I really enjoyed figuring out what each applicant had to offer and making sure that Brown was a good fit for them (and David really enjoyed the fact that I could charge money for my efforts).
Knowing what Brown was looking for – a self-driven, enthusiastic learner with a genuine intellectual curiosity – I thought Noah had a solid shot at acceptance. I didn’t know how we would be able to pay for him to attend, since he was the first of our kids to head off to college and the college savings accounts were meager at best, but I didn’t have to worry about figuring that out since he didn’t get in. The admissions office even wrote a note on his rejection letter telling him that they had taken extra care with his application as the son of an alumnus. (Note to admissions: that is salt in the wounds when you are rejecting someone. Saying you got a bump from your legacy status but even then you didn’t cut it doesn’t help make it better at all.) And now, seeing all the kids scurrying off to class or to a meal at the Ratty or off to study in the library (something I only heard about but never actually did while a student here), I can’t help but wonder if any of them cheated to get admitted. In the wake of this week’s bombshell news that rigging the system goes way beyond just buying a wing at the library (the best line I heard to describe the scandal is that these are helicopter parents who actually own a helicopter), I find myself thinking about how privileged I was to attend an Ivy League school, how much that matters, and what all of that means in light of the work I do now to help students and families navigate the college admission process.
I have seen a lot of social media posts equating any help with applications as cheating, but the reality is that the process has become incredibly stressful and overwhelming. I see my role as helping families demystify the application craziness and thereby make it less stressful for all involved. I think a lot of kids need help figuring out what it is that makes them special and what they can uniquely add to a college’s campus, and I feel honored to help them figure that out and express it in the best way possible, but always retaining their authentic voice. I have definitely had parents who have pushed the limits of what is ethically acceptable, including twice being fired for refusing to write their child’s essays (and even if I didn’t find this morally objectionable, it is not in the best interests of the child either. No admissions office wants to hear the voice of a middle-aged woman!). I also take on a lot of pro bono clients each year, trying to help balance the playing field and give them some of the assistance and support that other kids get in spades.
So part of what disgusts and infuriates me about the college admissions conspiracy is the fact that parents who were able to give their kids every conceivable legal advantage felt a need to stack the deck even more by going the illegal route. But I have realized, as I walk around Brown’s campus, that another thing that irks me about the scandal is the underlying assumption that there are only a handful of schools that are considered worthy institutions. I have visited many wonderful campuses across the country, and I called my business Perfect Fit College not because I think there is one school that is a perfect fit, but because I think there are many great schools out there, and the perfect fit comes from making it that once you are there. It seems these parents have lost sight of the value of a college education, the journey part of the equation, and are focused solely on the supposed prestige and bragging rights. I have learned firsthand, from seeing my three smart and creative children thrive at three very different schools (UNC-Chapel Hill, Davidson and Rhodes College), that there are many different paths to a successful future. And that the ride is what counts. So if your child does not end up at his or her first choice, it will be okay. I always remind my senior clients, on the day the bulk of the admittance notifications are sent out, that they are the same fabulous kids that they were before they were rejected by a school or two. None of my three ended up where they thought they wanted to be at the start of the college application process, and all three can’t imagine having gone anywhere else.
College is largely what you make of it, and that is true not just for college, but for life. Here’s to taking wherever we are, whatever we are doing, and making the best of it. And if a river gets moved along the way, here’s to milking that “I told you so!” moment for years and years!
For a good statement on the cheating scandal and more information about college fairs and researching colleges, visit https://www.nacacnet.org
And for a shameless plug of my college advising business, visit www.perfectiftcollege.com