I had a lovely weekend. I cheered the inspirational runners of the LA marathon as they paraded through my own neighborhood. I won a wine tasting at a silent auction for an excellent cause. And I attended a book swap/Scrabble event at the cool home of a gracious friend in Venice. But at every stop along the way, I ran into the nervous parents of high school seniors. Most of their kids have already received several acceptances, and most have excellent choices, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Berkeley, WashU, Syracuse, Indiana and UC Santa Cruz. According to their parents, several of the acceptees are thrilled with their current options. But most are still waiting to hear from a dream school or two.
One mom on the sidelines of the marathon said her son really wanted Brown, but then added that she herself really wanted a pony. Another parent said her child had attended several accepted-student events, but remained obsessed with Wesleyan, a super reach. A couple at the Scrabble gathering had driven down to San Diego to show their son San Diego State in case he didn't get accepted to USC, his dream school. But the tour guide had used the word "conveniency" three times, and that turned the whole family off.
The Neurotic Parent Institute was on the verge of funding a study to determine whether, in the case of college admissions, the desire for something better than the bird in hand is classic human nature. But after speaking to the parent of nearly-perfect student (All As, two 800s on the SATs and two more on the subject tests), who was shockingly rejected from MIT, the Institute has formulated a different theory. "He worked so hard," said the dad, whose son had an internship in a bio-medical ethics lab at UCLA and had won contests in fields I had never heard of and cannot pronounce. Another mom, whose daughter is waiting to hear whether her Penn deferral will be reversed, echoed this sentiment: "She deserves to get it because she had no life all through high school."
So it's not just prestige or "wanting something better" for our children that makes us crazed in this process. It's the idea that our kids spent hours studying for AP exam after AP exam, attending debate after debate, robotics competition after robotics competition, and then, for whatever lame, crapshooty reason, the "top" schools didn't want them.
The Neurotic Parent has a solution to the "He Worked So Hard and Sacrificed His Childhood Syndrome": encourage your children to slack off a little. Let them sleep late and have some other sucker be president of the chess club. Spend a weekend playing video games. That way, when your son or daughter gets turned down, you can say that at least she had a life in high school, and she will now be going off to a fine school like Wisconsin where she will get a great education and get to have a life in college as well.