A letter from a reader: Who does 'admission obsession' really benefit?

March 19, 2008:

Reading the "Admission Obsession" article (feature, Dec. 12) was like reading about another world of people. It concerns me that a parent worries about the college prospects for his 9- and 11-year-old children. If the children don't enjoy an endeavor, should the parent be more forceful in continuing it? Really? Why? For a parent's vicarious thrill of positioning their child for a future college selection? What kinds of things will children feel growing up trying to meet their parents' obsessive need for them to get into an "elite college"? The author says, "If you think this all sounds crazy, I agree." It's within the power of any parent not to subject their children to this madness.

Do parents really need coaches, tutors, "help" with their essays, and numerous sittings to prepare their children for the SAT? Who is all this preparation benefiting, the child or the parent? In a sort of poetic justice, some of these parents will spend small fortunes to open doors to the "elite" colleges. Nothing in life is a pure process, but this is a corruptive one that will get more so without colleges working to uncover the unpolished gems and give them a fair shot against manufactured hype.

My daughter recently graduated from Princeton. She was not an athletic admit, she was not a legacy admit, and she took the PSAT, SAT, and ACT once only, without any prep courses. Her father was on welfare and homeless as a child at one point. We had a modest income and relied greatly on financial aid to allow her education at Princeton. Being honest, I have to admit that she did have an advantage preparing for Princeton as she attended numerous summer programs prior to applying for college (i.e., Center for Talented Youth at JHU, the Sumac program at Stanford, and the Women's Technology Program at MIT). This seems to me a much more honest way of preparing for college than preparing for how to take the SAT. It clearly has better returns for the child and possibly involves a good deal less money. If she had not wanted to do these programs, there would have been no parental pressure for her to do so. What she wanted was more important than what I wanted. That may be a thought for parents who are concerned about this whole process.

Cleveland, Ohio     

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