A Tale of Three Cities, Part One: New York, New York
By Carol Barash, PhD, Founder and CEO, Story To College
As Frank Bruni noted yesterday in the New York Times, “The two Americas are evident in education as perhaps nowhere else.” On Saturday I had a rare glimpse into the gap between parents and children in these two disparate worlds.
My day started early on the upper East Side of New York City, in a building endowed by Andrew Carnegie just off Fifth Avenue, with brass unicorns inlaid in the entry hall’s elaborate mosaic floor. I am there to participate in a panel discussion, sponsored by the Brown University Club of NY, called “Solving the College Admissions Puzzle.” I could almost hear the unicorns laughing: there is no simple solution to the increasingly complex and competitive US college admissions game.
The room fills up quickly – mostly parents, some with aspiring sophomores and juniors in tow. On the panel with me are two former college admissions directors and an SAT prep tutor.
There is not a single African American in the audience. Not a single student raises their hand to ask a question.
The parents pummel us: “Should I push my child to have some sort of ‘it’ factor to get into top colleges?” “How much do you have to give to your alma mater to get attention in the admissions pool?” “How much does the essay matter anyway?” They are tense; their children fidget; everyone trying to guess what it is that top colleges want, so they can guide their children down a safe path to reach those magical brand-name schools.
My advice to them is direct: “Let your children write their own essays. Let them manage their own process. Be as gentle a consultant to them as possible. Believe and trust them to get it right.” A few parents thank me. Most just focus on the admissions guys and ask versions of “How do I make my kids stand out,” again and again. They are results oriented; to them college admission is a problem to be solved, managed, packaged for their kids.
With few exceptions, their children will do fine. They attend top high schools, and they are prepared, academically, to thrive at top colleges. But they are so burnt out by the time they get there that many of them are miserable. What, I wonder, is the message we are sending these kids?
To be continued…
This is Part One of a three part series about my experiences with three recent Story To College programs that tie together everything we aspire to do for college-bound students.