Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Mom's Letter to a College

Dear College Admissions People:

There are a few things that you didn't ask on your complicated application that I thought you should know about my son. You see, I've known him for 17+ years. I've seen him grow, change, develop and turn into a young man...a young man who wants to attend your school.

I think you should know that his grades don't say everything about him as a student. Sure, they give the results of his tests, quizzes and papers, but they can't show the many late nights he spent huddled over the computer trying to explain dark matter or psychosocial development or the meaning of metaphors in a book. The grades don't show his true effort which may not have resulted in top honors, but definitely taught him about perseverence, avoiding procrastination, thinking critically and sometimes, unfortunately, wounded pride. His grades don't show that he kept trying, even when the teacher may have lost faith in him. We've never lost faith in him and he never lost faith in himself. This is a vital life lesson that can't be learned in a book.

Although he may not have lots of clubs and sports to fill out his resume, he was active. You don't know about the relationships that he formed, the bands he played in and the responsibilities that he juggled just to get through the school year. As his body and his brain were changing, the burdens on his mind grew. There was no place on your application to tell you about the garage bands that he and his friends formed and how they taught themselves to play music and play it well, despite very little formal training and, I might add, crappy practice conditions. (Have you ever tried getting a Zeppelin riff down while a furnace hummed loudly next to you?)

We forced him to try a little of everything during high school and he did, although you'll never know about these trials, because many were brief. In our minds, at least he tried. There's nowhere on the application to tell you about the many times he went outside his comfort zone and did things that were really hard, like call a girl on the phone or comfort a friend when he's down or stay home when everyone was going out because a paper was due the next day. These are the skills that he'll really use during college, not the score of his AP Biology exam.

And although you do ask about work experience, there was nowhere to explain that being a grocery bagger was, sometimes, the hardest job there was. Like the time that he gave chase to a shoplifter or when he patiently helped a blind man shop and walk home or when he stood for eight hours and asked "paper or plastic" all the while working on very little sleep, thanks to some of the papers mentioned above. Nowhere on the application does it mention that one of his greatest fears is that he'll end up being a grocery bagger forever, because sometimes failure seems so close and college so out of reach.

I know there's a spot to ask about test scores, SATs, ACTs and the like. But did you ask what happened on the day that he took them? Did you know that there was a marching band practicing outside the window of the test room? Did you know that he had been fighting a cold for two weeks prior or that he tends to freeze up when he takes standardized tests?

When you meet him, there are some things that might not be apparent. He's quiet - don't mistake this for apathy. He WANTS to get into college badly, but doesn't yet have the skills to explain that. He might look a bit disheveled - don't mistake this for laziness. He spent a lot of sleepless nights practicing what he should say to you. He might not ask a lot of questions - don't assume that he doesn't have any. For him, he's still trying to get past the question looming large in his mind which is: "What the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life?"

You should know that there is a huge part missing from the application - that which talks about his character. He's a great friend, a pretty good sibling and a terrific son. He hates it when other kids are unnecessarily picked on or when cocky kids boast or act cooler than they are. He's been offered drugs and alcohol and thus far, he's resisted. That's more than I can say of myself at his age. He doesn't care what's popular, he cares what's right for him. Most of us don't learn that till we're much older or have made many more mistakes. Is he perfect? Of course not, but damn he's trying hard and to me, that counts for more than grades and test scores.

Please know that he's tried his very best to attractively package himself to present to you and yet he knows all too well that he still might not be good enough. Do you remember the last time you did that? He might not have flash and sizzle, but I assure you, he has style and substance.

As his mother, I think these are the things about him that deserve to be heard and then we'll decide if you're lucky enough to have him at your institution.


The Mom


At 3:44 PM , Blogger ma said...


That was a good one. Made me cry.

I h-a-t-e hate the college admissions process. Ick. With a side of bleh!

If I had to do all that these kids do....I would have never made it into higher education.

The world has gone a little nutso.

At 9:38 PM , Blogger David said...

what a great letter


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