The Writer’s Block: The Un-Ivy Experience

By Corinne Wnek

I used to wonder if I failed my daughter. Since she is my only child, it really hurts when I don’t do something right the first time, because I never get a do-over with a second kid. So you can imagine the lingering torment, anguish and nightmares I experienced after learning that my daughter….drum roll here….. WOULD NOT APPLY TO IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS! From this point on everything sounded like it was being spoken by her in sloooow motion.

Now I made a conscious decision to try to stay out of the college advising business with my own daughter figuring that I was paying big bucks for an impartial, but very competent advisor at her school, to have this pleasure with her. But I have been a professional public high school counselor for a long time and I just happen to work in a community where many think that college advising is only a matter of deciding which Ivy school their student will attend. I think I’m pretty good at what I do. But now I was beginning to second-guess my approach toward my own daughter’s future, her college list, her research, and her advisor and, of course, my parenting skills. What kind of a mother am I?

Consider that my daughter, on many levels, was Ivy material, whatever that is understood to mean. Jackie had the required package of sports including over twelve years of competitive gymnastics with bragging rights to a few state titles, in addition to community service and extensive leadership experiences that put her squarely in the ballpark for a likely passage through the first round admission scuffle. No rose colored glasses here. Just nice, thick bifocals that allow me to see everything clearly. She could a’ been a contender.

To complete the picture, she graduated from a prep school of some renown whose reputation for Ivy acceptances was really remarkable. My daughter was also one of eight students nominated by the faulty for induction into “the Cum Laude Society”, a prep school organization that recognizes outstanding academic achievement, service and personal character. Are you feeling my pain yet? What was this kid thinking?

So, inevitably, when the subject of Jackie’s college list came up with well-meaning colleagues, they were quick to notice the glaring omission of an Ivy League school among the eight highly selective, top tier schools in the country that she was excited about. “Ah, well, it’s because….I mean she didn’t……that is to say, we’re still researching…”, etc., etc. Why am I cursed to work with a really bright group of people? That aside, what was my problem? Why was I uncomfortable with her list?

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m really was NOT as uncomfortable as I thought with my daughter deciding to not apply to any of the Ivies. Just then it hit me, This was my “AH HA” moment. I had forgotten something here and that is our kids really do listen to us. Maybe not the first time, or even the second, but eventually what we say to them gets heard.

I forgot that my daughter actually listened to me, like in her freshman year around course selection time, when slowly the college talk would creep in. I would tell her to take the classes she wanted to take, the ones she felt passionate about. When we shopped, I told her she has good taste and to buy what she likes and not to worry about trends or what others thought or were wearing. When she wrote essays or articles as the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, I encouraged her to write what she wanted to say and to mean it.

Later in high school I told her that, when it comes to choosing a college, be brave and follow her own heart. Don’t choose New England schools just because everybody else does. It’s okay to see what another part of the country is like. Because there are great schools everywhere. Don’t do a small liberal arts college because you think they might be safe havens for you and your comfort level. Don’t go for big rah-rah schools because you have an impression that college life is all about the game of the week. And, yes, don’t apply to Ivy League schools if you don’t want to for whatever reason you believe makes sense to you.

My daughter did pick schools that made sense to her and ones that felt like a good fit for her goals.. Great variety of classes, desirable internships, unusual study abroad options, skilled and accessible professors and students who wanted to find their place and their passion among others like themselves. And who doesn’t love warm weather and good shopping?

Turns out my daughter is a pretty good listener after all. I still got it.

NOTE: Jackie decided on wonderful Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia where she graduated in May, 2009 with a degree in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. She is now in her second year of medical school in beautiful Pikeville, Kentucky where IVY means the green stuff that grows on manicured lawns.

Look for Corinne Wnek’s column, “The Writer’s Block,” every Friday online at NJTODAY.NET

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