I’ve been following the Harvard admissions lawsuit like 👀 .
The Times articles on the subject (there are several) gives great insights into why Harvard accepts the people they do, besides academic achievement. It’s beautifully voyeuristic for the rest of us plebes who had to settle for Tier 2 universities. It’s also a world I have zero insight into. From the article:
The officers speak a secret language — of “dockets,” “the lop list,” “tips,” “DE,” the “Z-list” and the “dean’s interest list” — and maintain a culling system in which factors like where applicants are from, whether their parents went to Harvard, how much money they have and how they fit the school’s goals for diversity may be just as important as scoring a perfect 1600 on the SAT.
It’s also cementing what I’ve kind of known: My children will never ever get into Harvard. They have zero legacy, are born into relative privilege, are far (far!) from diverse, and — the real nail in the coffin — are from New Jersey. The other really big nail is I’m simply never going to have the laser-like focus on my children’s achievement and performance it can take for admission into an elite college. It’s just too much and, honestly, I think me dedicating my life to this sets us all up for major disappointment.
As my son has started in the school system, I’ve found it’s hard as a “high-achieving” parent (I say that in quotes as I would never think of myself as a “high-achieving” parent but maybe I am if my kids are 6 and 2 and I’m already writing about college admissions?), to separate life skills from education goals. Education is very important to me; I want my children to do well in school and I want them to be academically and intellectually challenged. I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be very, very happy if they gained admission into a great school.
But you know what I want more? For them to be self-sufficient. When I think of the checklist we parents have to partake in nowadays for entry into higher education (Tutors! Extracurriculars! Foreign languages! Volunteering!) none of the boxes we check for that exactly parlay into the skills I want my children to have, which are the following:
- Be self-sufficient, both emotionally and financially. Basically, I want them out of the house by 18 (I will allow them to return for summer breaks). I don’t want to support them financially outside of what we do to help with their college tuition. If they need money for rent or food or gas, they can get a job. I am not a total hardass, however: They can have my Netflix password if Netflix is still a thing.
- Be on time. Does this need an explanation? Be on time to shit. It’s half the game.
- Be dependable and a hard worker. I hope if they are faced with something they don’t know how to do, that they have the confidence and clarity to believe in themselves to sit down and figure it out.
- Be kind and respectful to people. This goes for everyone — from those in a position of authority to the people who pick up your trash. And to be especially kind and respectful to whomever you end up partnered with.
- Don’t use heroin. Oh god, please don’t use heroin.
- Make money. Not too much, but enough that you don’t have to constantly come to me for a handout to survive in this world. (I’m harping on money lately as I just wrote a check out for over a thousand bucks for fall / winter swim lessons for the kids. That’s a hefty bill.)
- Honor their body. They don’t be crazy about it — nobody like a human peacock. But I would hope they would treat it with respect and keep their shit in check.
This is a long-winded checklist to say: I will be happy if my kids are functioning adults who take pleasure in the world around them and are comfortable in their own skin and abilities and who will be financially secure enough in their life so I can retire before I’m 80.
Does school / education and extracurriculars help with this? Sure. But what I’m here for, as their parent, is to make sure they have resiliency and skills to make their adult life work. That’s it.
I constantly need to remind myself of this as a parent because it’s so easy to get caught up in the other stuff. Maybe you do too?
Because here is the hard truth: If your kid is super smart and gets into a great school but has no idea how to handle their own life, what’s the point?