Adele’s Two Cents: Bringing Down the Curve

 She’s baaaaack!

My cousin Adele returns to regale you with more words of wisdom about life, the universe, and everything. And yes, even the kitchen sink.  In other words, she’s not afraid to give you her Two Cents and tell you what’s what. After all, she’s my cousin and quite adept at spinning a web or two herself. So read on!DSCN7307

It’s Springtime!  Easter for me, Pesach for my cousin, Monica, and panic time for thousands of high school seniors!  I recently read some alarming stats re: college admission rates and that prompted me to write this piece today.

95%. Ninety. Five. Percent. That’s 100% minus 5. That’s the staggering percentage of applicants for admission recently rejected by Stanford University. That means that of the more than 42,000 applicants, just over 2,000 were offered The Golden Ticket.

I have a better chance of reproducing cold fusion in my bath tub or learning Latin in a weekend.

When did being admitted to a top college become a near impossibility and why are so many schools eagerly jumping on the exclusionary bandwagon? Not so long ago, the acceptance rate at top schools was closer to 20%. But as those rates started heading toward the single digits, students (and their parents) started heading for the panic button.

Back in the day (Class of 19None-of-Your-Business), I was fortunate enough to attend one of these picky picky picky institutions (I don’t want to name names, but it rhymes with Schmarvard).  And just because I’m a Latina, I don’t want you to think I only got in as some politically correct, affirmative action freebie, because I’ll have you know that I got in the old fashioned way: I slept with the Dean of Admissions. (Hey, don’t judge – she was no picnic!)

Sure, I had all the usual qualifiers – grades, sports, orchestra, musicals etc. But today that wouldn’t even get me a space on the waitlist for Jiffy Lube Junior College. Apparently current applicants need a 12.9 GPA, a handful of Olympic medals, and it helps if they’ve cured cancer and solved the crisis in the Middle East. All by sophomore year.

Here's Adele at her daughter's graduation.

Here’s Adele at her daughter’s graduation.

But there’s a downside to being surrounded by students who have aced every exam since the Early Pregnancy Test. I know how it feels to think that in the world of overachievers, I’m the one bringing down the curve.   After all, during my undergraduate years in the Holy Land of the Pink Polo Shirt, my classmates included the students who have gone on to become the richest man on the planet, the foremost cellist in the world, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the executive editor of the New York Times and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. See what I mean?

Thankfully my children are years past this adolescent crucible and each went to excellent schools that suited their different personalities and passions. But I worry about the students (and their parents) who believe that not being admitted to a top tier school is a crushing personal failure and sure fire résumé killer. As if their fate is sealed by age 17 and they are now doomed to a career asking “Do you want Biggie Fries with that order?” (And yes, yes I would!)

Listen, I knew plenty of classmates who were unhappy and unsuccessful within the Ivy covered walls. I also know that the most brilliant and accomplished person I’ve ever worked with went to a local college and law school (night school, no less!).

So lighten up, you Super Stressed applicants, there are so many different ways and places to succeed. And open up, you Oh So Exclusive schools, there are kids out there with so much to contribute that doesn’t show up on a standardized test.

Do you remember what your college application experience was like? Did you wind up at the right school for you?



22 thoughts on “Adele’s Two Cents: Bringing Down the Curve

  1. Sorry, Monica! I have had internet problems. this is my third try to comment. If I get a phone call y hotspot shuts off! And I lose my comment! Anyway. Pretty soon we are headed down to my step son’s graduation from college. It is such a huge deal that he graduated on time, I thinkit is so hard for these kids. And not to mention the school loans. It is better not to have any loans! Which might mean going to a cheaper college. I think that is the way that kids have to go these days!

    • Oh no, Jodi! Your internet troubles sound exasperating! Anyway, at least you have college behind you. I remember the agony if when my daughter was applying for college. Thank goodness she got into the school of her choice. Whew. Congrats on your step son’s accomplishment. Way to go!

  2. Adele, this is an excellent, thought-provoking post. I went to a state school with admission requirements far below my qualifications. However, there’s more to college than just prestige, and these were four spectacular years for my growth and development. I wouldn’t trade them for anything!
    My son, on the other hand, went to one of those top-notch private schools — and it, too, was perfect for him. He was challenged by the curriculum, encouraged by the faculty, and befriended by classmates who hailed from all across our great land. He wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!
    That said, I do believe that top schools have a right to be picky as to their choices of students. They’re “top schools” for a reason — their grads typically get good jobs, succeed at their careers, contribute to their alma mater, and make the college proud.
    Which is NOT to say that grads of less-prestigious institutions cannot succeed. It really depends a great deal on the individual. Not everyone holds the same definition of “success.” In fact, not everyone can or should attend college at all. Many career paths are more technical and for those so inclined and so talented, that could be a better option.
    Thankfully, I’m past this dilemma — and so’s my son!

    • Great comment, right on the money! I’d never been away from home before I headed off to college and 99% of what I learned during those 4 years had nothing to do with a classroom or curriculum. The marvelous growth and development you and I experienced can be had at any school, regardless of how “picky” it is. My kids went to different schools, on different coasts even, and each loved their different experience. Thanks for sharing yours!

  3. Okay – I’ve now read all the comments. This post and the commenters are fantastic. Adele – you need your own blog. If you ever want to guest post on my blog I would love to have you. Monica – loved your comment too. My background – I came from a family who didn’t think women needed to go to college. Fought my way to into a local college. Reveled in my new-found freedom with no real thought of what I would do when I graduated. I majored in business. 5 years after I graduated I returned to college and took the accounting classes needed for the CPA exam and have been working as an accountant for the last 20+ years. Now that I am older and wiser I think I would have been much happier working as a physical therapist. It has been over 30 years since I graduated from high school and I still think high schools/colleges/parents don’t do a very good job providing career counseling to our youth. The problem today is if you make a mistake by going to the wrong school or receiving the wrong major it is too expensive to make a change later on.

    • Thanks for the kind words: I’d love to have my own blog, but my cousin Monica says only one family member at a time can enter the blogosphere and she got here first! (Joking!) And I agree with you about the poor college/career counseling many high schoolers receive. It seems they’re pretty much on their own to figure things out. And unfortunately, you can’t Google “What should I do with my life?”

  4. Great post. The same can be said for the parent who pushes his son to go to a university when he wants to become an auto mechanic. My current co-worker is doing this. It is really sad.

    • My brother tried to force his daughter to go to HIS alma mater and study what HE studied, even though she had no interest or aptitude. It did not end well. Eventually he wised up; hope your co-worker does too. College can be a verrrry expensive mistake for some.

    • What makes you think I’m joking about that?! If I were as dumb as my kids think I am, I couldn’t even get in there!

  5. I’m curious, Adele, what do you think of the new standards for the SAT? I almost feel like it’s part of the dumbing down of America to make the essays optional. I agree, the vocabulary was difficult on those tests, but instead of eliminating them from the test, what about getting kids to read more, which is the best way to expand your vocabulary that I know of. I do think one change is fair: that’s where the SATs will no longer penalize you for giving a wrong answer. If it’s wrong, don’t give any points, but I never liked when they took away points and it was better to leave an answer blank than to try to figure it out.

  6. I didn’t seek admission to any really big name schools. However, one of my friends attended law school at Yale and HATED it! I have two brilliant nephews who could do whatever they want and attend almost any school, but don’t even aspire to attend college. I don’t get it. Another great post, Adele. Thank you!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • As I said, no school is the right school for everyone and maybe college isn’t the right choice for everyone. I wanted to be the next Barbra Streisand; instead I wound up being a real estate lawyer/stand up comic/writer/advocate for the homeless. The choices we make-or don’t make- at 17 shouldn’t define us. Thanks for the kind words Kathy!

  7. I couldn’t afford the “school of my choice” even with the partial scholarship they offered so I ended up at the local state university. I think the $$$ gap is a bigger issue than the acceptance gap. Have you finished paying off your student loans yet?Percentages are spots per applicants. If you have 2000 spots and 3000 applicants that’s a great acceptance rates. If you have 2000 spots and 42000 applicants you have an ivy league nightmare. – And have you looked at what high school students put out for personal essays? (Not yours of course) At least half of those applications are tossed just to save the reading. I can’t say as I entirely blame them for that.

    • Gosh I hate to sound like an apologist for the Ivy League, but few other schools offer as much financial aid as they do (seriously, families earning under $65-80G pay $0!). The $$$s can seem daunting though. And as a volunteer in the admissions process for 20 years, I’m afraid I have to contradict your thought that applications are tossed (trust me, every single one gets read, even the “Not a Chance” ones!). I’m just glad I never have to go through it again!

      • That was then this is now. Glad to know someone has to drag through those applications and it’s not me. My daughter opted for a trade school and they worked very closely with her on financial aid.

  8. Hey, if you had to sleep with the dean, I’m gonna tilt my afro to you. I’m sure that’s a bittersweet memory, being that you’re a Schmarvard graduate. Some folk would’ve just dropped out given such a choice.

    • Fortunately, for all involved, I was JOKING about sleeping with the Dean of Admissions (she was sooo not my type…)! ! ! I did indeed get admitted the old fashioned way: I worked my ass off in high school! So hang on to your afro totsymae1011, it’s all good!

  9. An interesting insight. I’m now wondering if this picky picky picky lot will ripple throughout other countries. To be honest. I wouldn’t be surprised. What a shame.

    Regardless. Sometimes the less uppity the college, the more value you get from the experience, and in fact, you more than likely come out far better at writing and summing up simple equations! I’m just saying…

    • With Spell Check and calculators so ubiquitous, do schools even teach writing and simple equations anymore? Maybe I should go back for a refresher course…..

  10. These days, not sure those Ivy schools should be on any radar. I think this a conspiracy, I am not usually one for theories of this nature but I think they are all in on it. Congratulations for being so spectacularly accomplished, truly this is fabulous. Me? I took my GED early, married went on to become a wonderful failure at college till my late twenties, then finally decided to graduate from a local college taking mostly night courses to accommodate my need to work, raise children and take care of a home. We can’t all figure it out early.

    I don’t think college is for everyone at 18.

    This was wonderfully done and I have to thank Monica yet again for your gift of this one.

    • I agree that college is not for every 18 year old, and not every college is right for every kid. My good friend took a very crooked path (5 different colleges, 6 different majors) to a very happy and fulfilled life. Thanks for sharing Your story!

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