A letter from a reader: Advice to parents: Just say no

March 19, 2008:

I read with concern the feature by Merrell Noden '78 in the Dec. 12 PAW entitled "Admission Obsession." It is the latest in a long series of similar articles about the arms race in Ivy League admissions. Neurotic parents (who all seem to live in the greater New York area) are so obsessed about their children getting into an Ivy League college that they hire college admission coaches, micromanage their children's lives, and build the children's resumes from the age of 9. While Mr. Noden calls it crazy and ridiculous, he does not disown it. To the contrary, he claims that "everybody does it" and that "virtually everybody who can afford to does these days," like taking steroids in baseball.

I have a suggestion to my fellow alums. Just say no. Relax, let your children be children, and let the college-admission chips fall where they may. The years of dreams and exploration are few and are too precious to waste on résumé building. If we love our children, it should be far more important to us that they are happy and well adjusted than where they go to college. As I write this, I have just returned from my son's sixth-grade basketball game, where they lost 56-19. My concern was not whether this diminished his chances of someday getting into Princeton as a recruited athlete, but whether he was having fun. He said yes, and disappeared outside to play in the creek.

If the only way he can get into Princeton is with the help of admission coaches, SAT-prep courses and custom-built resumes, then my son will not become part of the Class of '18. Why on earth would that worry me? If what Mr. Noden says is true, he probably would have nothing in common anyway with classmates whose young lives were so heavily scripted.

By the way, I am pleased to say that the Bloomington phone book has no listings for college-admission coaches. Feel free to contact me about moving here.

Bloomington, Ind.

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