By Director of College Counseling Kate Ramsdell
Every year right around this time, a flurry of articles appears in the popular press that tell families not to worry about their child’s college outcomes or highlight just how competitive the landscape has become – and oh, by the way, you could have done things differently to get into one of those aforementioned competitive colleges.
In 2015, Frank Bruni published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, “How to Survive the College Admission Madness.” I wrote about the article a few years ago, as it resonated then with me much as it continues to today. Happiness and success, he argued, come under different guises at different points in people’s lives. He structures his narrative around two students who did not get into their first-choice colleges. The two most compelling aspects of his argument, in my opinion, are that he interviews the students when they are in their late twenties and that “…there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything hinges.”
By interviewing Peter and Jenna about 10 years after their high school graduations, Bruni underscores the notion that initial sting of rejection is almost always dulled by time and experience. Jenna and Peter have “landed on their feet” by the time they are interviewed – college disappointments exist as a mere road bump at this stage. We find annually that this is true for our students. Once the lens of Gleason Hall has been removed, the power of judgment about outcomes for their own sake also diminishes. The conversations we have a year later, or at a five-year reunion where a once unhappy student remarks, “I don’t know why I was so sad about having to go to X college – I love(d) it,” underscore Bruni’s thesis.
We don’t have to tell you that adolescence is complicated, transitions are hard, and leaving Nobles will invariably take on the characteristics of a loss in the coming months for many students in the senior class.
And yet, I find myself wanting to use Bruni’s language to remind students and their families alike: “…there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything hinges” in life.
On the advice of Jen Craft, chair of our science department, teacher extraordinaire, parent, and wonderful colleague, I picked up: “The Self Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives.” Jen said she couldn’t put it down, and she urged us to use it as we examine student wellness at Nobles. I’ve just started reading, so I don’t have a fully formed opinion yet, but this segment caught my attention:
“If you have the confidence that you can impact a situation, it will be less stressful. In contrast, a low sense of control may well be the most stressful thing in the universe. On some level, you probably know this…. You may also have experienced the power of control in relation to your kids. If your child is sick or struggling and you feel there is nothing you can do about it, your stress level is likely to rise.”
I am not suggesting we have a panacea for the stress that accompanies the college process, nor am I intentionally diminishing the joyous anticipation that kids feel when they are genuinely excited by their college opportunities. We strive to give our counselees the power of control by teaching them to understand the complexity of the landscape that they are facing and the agency to make well-informed decisions. Perhaps more importantly, we are here when they stumble and as they navigate their choices. We invite you in any time to ask us questions so that you, too, can gain a stronger sense of control over a process that can, at times, offer anything but that.