College Readiness? I’m No Genius..

Lauren Puffer visits the campus of University of California - Santa Cruz, one of her top college choices. She'll begin the college application process later this year.

Last night I made a critical error. I got wrapped up in routine housework and missed the Sign Up Genius going live for our mother-daughter volunteer group, East Valley National Charity League. It was a first-come, first-served sign up that decided who does what for the next year when it comes to leading monthly meetings and their assigned topics. The organizer made it perfectly clear that it would go live at 8:00pm MST, so it was completely my own fault that I spaced it. This is a group of moms and daughters who are really on top of things, so when I realized my error about an hour later, I reluctantly dragged myself into the office to see what volunteer assignment I would be stuck with. And really at that point it didn’t matter, because first and foremost it would be the one that no one else wants. Great.

As I scrolled down through the list of cool and fun assignments already taken, there it was: College Readiness. Two open slots. No one had signed up for College Readiness. Is it possible that no one signed up for College Readiness because none of us wants to face reality that our kids will be leaving for college in a year? I’m sure as heck not ready.

What happens right now, and its connection to what happens a year from now, has been on my mind a lot lately. My daughter, Lauren, is currently wrapping up her junior year in high school. She takes her finals next week. Up until a couple of years ago, it wasn’t even on my radar how important her junior year is in terms of getting into a good college. She will begin applying for colleges later this summer and early fall. So really, her grades in her junior year are her last chance to dazzle the college admissions czars who wield their wands, dashing or granting teenagers’ idyllic dreams of higher education. That’s a lot of pressure for a 16 year-old kid. And as parents, it’s easy to be seduced into a mindset of achievement that only adds to that pressure, to push our kids do more, be more, make the grade. But who is it really about: us or them?  

Recently I had a particularly troubling week where I was getting sucked into a vortex of habitually overthinking this. I had to snap out of it. So I vented to my friend, Jill, a trusted confidant with two very high-achieving daughters and an impressive command of the college admissions process. She recommended a book to me that really helped me gain some perspective, not only about the whole college admissions process (and the multi-billion dollar industry that supports it), but about parenting in general. The book is called, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,” by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University. I don’t see myself in many of the extreme helicopter parent examples she describes, such as doing Lauren’s homework for her, or directing her extracurricular activities in a “checklist” type fashion that boosts her application arsenal – Lauren is 100% capable and in charge of all of that. But it was a great tool for reflection and recognizing those moments when I must take a step back and keep my parental fear-driven need to control in check. I’ve got to trust my daughter to do her best and have faith that she’ll wind up exactly where she needs to be when she goes to college. I’m not so naïve to believe that means the transition will be a piece of cake; quite the contrary. Lauren is my youngest, so when she leaves, my husband and I will be empty nesters. I’m trying my best to prepare for that, but there’s no way to know exactly what that will be like until I’m living it. If you think about it, college readiness is just as much about setting up the new dorm room as it is about family transitions and letting go; it takes on a whole different meaning, depending on whether you’re looking at it from the perspective of the parent or the child.        

So in a stroke of Sign Up Genius irony, I clicked on the first available slot on College Readiness and committed Lauren and I to a task in which I’m certainly no genius. But then again I guess that’s why the slot was available. None of us feels like we have all the answers. What does College Readiness actually look like? Lauren and I have until March of 2018 to figure it out.            

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