What I Learned About the College Admission Process

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I was a “well rounded” student in high school (my euphemism for “average”). The only time I thought about the SAT exam was the morning my mom woke me up, made me a hearty breakfast and sent me off to take the test. I completed my application to the University of Florida with a No. 2 pencil and mailed it off with a 13-cent stamp. UF welcomed me with open arms and the rest, as they say, is history. Those days are long gone.

The college admissions process today is daunting. I have given birth to two children, successfully run my own business and completed several half-marathons, but guiding my children into and through college has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Here’s what I learned.

College tours are not for everyone.
For many high school students, summer college tours are a rite of passage. Indeed, according to Campus Tours Go Disney, “Research shows that nothing influences a student’s decision about where to apply and enroll as much as the visit.” Those researchers never met my kids. They had zero interest in trading a week at New Smyrna Beach for a vacation touring – egad, dare I say! – college campuses. John and Allison selected their colleges sight unseen, setting foot on campus for the first time at freshman orientation. They both had positive college experiences and love their Alma maters. I’m not saying this is the path for everyone, I’m just saying.

College entrance exams are a competitive sport.
The competition for college admission is stiff. My “well rounded” grades would not have gotten me into UF today. Not by a long shot. Students admitted to UF’s fall 2013 freshman class had an average 4.3 GPA. That’s three-tenths of a point above perfect! Standardized test scores are just as formidable.

Much like volleyball or tennis, excelling on the college entrance exam requires coaching, practice and cross-training. My kids, and most of their friends, took the SAT 2-3 times. They attended tutoring where they learned test-taking tricks and took practice exams. They also took the ACT which differs in its testing approach and scoring.

The college your child chooses is not about you.
My son is a perfect example. He is the product of parents that have a combined three degrees from the University of Florida and have been football season ticket holders since Ronald Reagan was president. He learned to walk in orange and blue OshKosh B’Gosh overalls. Santa brought him a full Gator football outfit when he was 4-years-old. So, where did he decide to go to college? UF’s in-state rival FSU. Sight unseen.

Photo used with my son’s reluctant permission.
Photo used with my son’s reluctant permission.

The wisecracks from friends and family were funny the first 10-20 times, but then it became uncomfortable for John to the point that I had to ask people to stop. In solidarity, I embraced his decision. I bought garnet and gold clothing for Parents Weekend. I root for the Seminoles during football season – except when they play the Gators. (A mother’s love does have its limits!) Today, he is as passionate about his Alma mater as I am about mine. And, that makes me very happy.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Carolyn! What a treat to read this story! I’m sure I was one one of those friends who was scratching her head over the FSU student in a a UF family, but your story sums up perfectly how the admissions process should go: Let them chart their future (emphasis on THEIR). The college admissions process is step one for the rest of the journey. Your two learned well, good job mama 🙂

  2. I’m going through this process right now; it’s quite daunting. My daughter is looking to play softball in college too, so it is quite time consuming. It will be interesting to see where she ends up!

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