I won’t deny it. I’ve got serious Tiger Mom tendencies. As my older daughter is getting ready for middle school, I am already reading books about what she needs to do in high school to prepare for college. That’s pretty much been the story of my adult life though. Even before my husband proposed marriage, I already had vivid details in my mind as to what kind of wedding we were to have. From the wedding dress to the venue, I had every single detail carved out in my head. It was going to be a spring wedding with a semi-outdoor reception in Central Park, with various traditions incorporated to reflect two distinct cultures coming together. No one could have convinced me to do anything that deviated from that vision. Yes, yes, bad, bad controlling habits — they die hard.
When I saw Frank Bruni’s op-ed in the New York Times a few weeks ago, I was quite intrigued. His take on the whole college admissions mania just runs against everything I’ve been operating on. Yes, I have moments, more like lapses I should say, where I say it’s okay to just let my kids run the show and have them somewhat direct their lives. But most of the time, I, like so many moms of my generation and socio-economic group, try to minimize my kids’ chance of failing. You know the type, our type, the moms who are the ones to sign up their kids first for whatever enrichment activity, just so we can give our progeny the edge.
That’s what’s so great about Frank Bruni’s book, Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be. It harkens back to the time when individuals look at colleges as time for self-discovery, where one can stretch their wings a bit and fly. It goes against the grain of today’s common admissions protocol of treating the US News & World Report Rankings as bible. According to Bruni, college is the time when we can try on something very different from our early schooling years and upbringing, where we can surround ourselves with racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity if we want to. That’s what my college and graduate school experience were like. Why do I want to push a different reality for my kids and urge them to focus on schools that have higher rankings than where I went?
Bruni’s book also talks about various successful leaders, including Dick Parsons and Christiane Amanpour, who have not gone to Ivy League schools and their route to success. And frankly, their lives sound much more interesting and satisfying than those who have followed a more traditional path. Their journeys in exploring the road less traveled did not affect how successful they became later in life. What truly fueled their successes were their passion and relentless commitment to their craft. The problem with today’s admissions process is that it forces our kids to think of always packaging themselves to appeal to universities, thus repressing their individualities as well as limiting paths or options that may lead to greater fulfillment down the road. There is such prescribed paths and scripted roles for these kids that there’s really no time for self-exploration, let alone breathe.
For those of you who are in college admissions mode, I highly recommend reading Frank Bruni’s book to get a dose of objectivity and perspective in this crazy panic-stricken stage of your family’s lives. I would love to hear your thoughts on the book and of the whole college admissions process.