Guest Opinion – “College Admission Sweepstakes” by Ari Kaufman

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A friend recently told me to discontinue sending her e-mails because her son is “preparing to apply to colleges” and would thus need his mother’s constant attention and assistance.

I was miffed, recalling that the boy just turned 16. I’m aware of crafty college coaches recruiting players in eighth grade but I was unsure why my friend needed to devote so much time to this oft-overhyped decision.

When I applied to college about 25 years ago, my mom was helpful, but there were no online applications and, therefore, no opportunities for incessant e-mails to the high school guidance counselor or university administrator.

Unlike the homes I’ve recently visited, my family’s dining room table wasn’t  littered with brochures from a dozen schools. There was no calendar planning when we’d go on the “East Coast trip,” (Maryland, Virginia) the “West coast sojourn” (UCLA, Stanford) nor the “Big Ten trip,” centered around football schedules for the likes of Michigan and Wisconsin.

And after my school of choice didn’t accept me, we didn’t call on an esteemed alumnus to write a persuasive letter to the dean, requesting further consideration and review of my extracurriculars. (Yes, I know several upper-middle class people who’ve done exactly that, and it usually worked.)

The class of 2019 will decide on college — or work, as many intrepidly eschew college’s high costs for vocational schools and quicker paychecks — in the next few weeks, and it’s an overplayed decision, which becomes less essential each year.

As we recently witnessed via the massive university admissions bribery scandal, the playing field isn’t legitimate either, and disingenuous influence comes in a variety of ways if you’re well connected. In fact, insecure parents often care more than the children.

For many parents, it’s a mad dash of planning frivolity, all for an indefinite result, long-term debt and what some deem an overpriced participation certificate (I say this as someone with a graduate degree and PhD wife.)

Especially within the humanities (full disclosure: I majored in political science, and my current job has nothing to do with my field of study), colleges are not about teaching skill sets nor preparing students for real world careers; they’re about credentialing, social connections and, yes, status. Credentialing occurs the minute you get accepted to the university, while social connections are created by one’s mere presence at university. Status is via your diploma and often more important for the parents to boast about with bumper stickers and school sweatshirts. Education itself? Usually secondary.

Actress Lori Laughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade, may have come across vacuous in her YouTube video saying she didn’t care about school, but she was mostly correct; she doesn’t need to go to college. She’s wise to drop out! At age 18, she was already a more successful entrepreneur than any of USC’s faculty who’ll teach her. Blame the rich parents for their insecurity and wasting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

A few decades ago, it mattered a bit where you attended college, and more importantly, what you learned. Some employers likely cared, professors were more objective, grades weren’t inflated, and fewer people attended graduate school.

Thirty years ago, a majority of students could probably identify Iraq on a map, the name of Germany’s chancellor or what the First Amendment entails.

Not so much anymore. The facts, polls and anecdotal evidence don’t lie.

Recent grads I know were unaware of who Robert F. Kennedy was, what socialism is, and when the Gulf War occurred. There was an economics graduate from a top school who had never been introduced to Milton Friedman’s brilliant theories (I’m certain he knew Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s warped theories, though.)

So, since where one attends college is becoming immaterial, why all the stress?

Unlike 1959 or 1979, now that delaying one’s entry into the workforce is common via grad school, the institute producing your bachelors’ diploma is truly less imperative.

Yes, succeeding at certain schools in certain majors holds weight in certain fields, but that’s a very narrow area. It mostly depends upon where your future boss puts value. In the various jobs and careers I’ve had, no supervisor cared one iota about my grades or where I went to college. None. My work ethic, integrity, experience and production mattered more.

Parents need to realize this, relax, and relay this information to their offspring. But, in my experience, and this week proves it again, they don’t.

There are paid “educational consultants” in high-achiever enclaves for parents looking to pick the proper preschool. And the pressure to get into the “right” college is being felt by parents of children not yet in high school.

When I taught a group of soon-to-be ninth-graders many summers ago at the University of Vermont, one precocious student’s parents picked him up the final day and whisked him on a weekend tour of New England campuses.

I’m afraid to guess what that kid’s next few years were like.

A California native, former school teacher and military historian, Ari Kaufman has worked as a journalist for various publications around the country since 2004. He lives with his wife in Minnesota.


Author: Thomas

I'm a small town boy living in the heart of Iowa watching the world go by with my wife and dog.

2 thoughts on “Guest Opinion – “College Admission Sweepstakes” by Ari Kaufman”

  1. I’m thinking I should make a bumper sticker. Something like: “My tech school grad earns more than your PhD kid without student debt.”

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  2. Ha! Yeah. That was good, too.

    I am of the opinion that this is an overblown issue. Colleges have always been free to invite whom ever they want as students and for whatever reason. The cost of college is absurd. Why is it illegal to pay a couple of grand more to attend the university you’d like? Don’t we always overspend on what we want whether it be a rare CD or better Taylor Swift seats? What is the difference between paying extra to get into a specific college or affirmative action and being invited solely due to your ethnic background. Far more students have missed out on a preferred education to those factors than the few wealthy/athletic kids who abused the system.

    Also, this wouldn’t be an issue if college tuitions weren’t out of control. These universities sit on billions in endowments and then have the audacity to put students in hundreds of thousands in debt upon graduation. THAT is going to be the next Great Depression in this nation as the next gen is buried under the oppression of crippling debt from which only a handful of benefactors will benefit.

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