Every family has their milestones. There is the newborn, 1st birthday, kindergarten, bar mitzvahs. There is college. It is not surprising that whatever phase of life one is in, it becomes a centrifugal force. Call me lucky. I am. I guess my kids are what are referred to as Irish twins. Perhaps when I have time to check the etymology of this term, one or both will be in college. Even writing this line feels foreign to me. We have a senior and a junior ‘in the house’. Our day to day is college centric. It is not merely the applications, the early decision, early action, wait listing, and anticipatory anxiety. It is daily concern over quizzes and exams, grade point averages and SAT scores.
It’s a complicated picture to be sure. There isn’t much time for anything else. I knew these days were coming. I have friends before me who are through it. They survived, but this isn’t altogether consoling. I find myself lingering around the photos of them in first and second grade. Is this normal? Are other mothers experiencing these emotions? Aren’t we supposed to experience some relief?
I know that I am not alone in thinking we are woefully ill prepared, and as I have conversations with parents everyday. This college anxiety has cleaved our rational thought process, leaving us split open, arguing, worried, projecting our expectations. We want the best for our kids, but sometimes lose perspective. I know that much of the anxiety is as much about admission into a great school as it is with the preoccupation with the fifty shades of bleak job prospects for our college graduates. I don’t think that the cost value relationship is necessarily there. One father told me; “I am not spending $60,000 on a school I have never even heard of.”
When he said the name of the now popular school down south, this was all I could say. “It’s popular”, sounding like a moron. It is certainly an upside down proposition for all of us. Think about everything that goes into preparing for college admission. It is based upon very specific criteria. Schools measure and weigh each piece of data. After our kids are in these schools, do we measure and weigh if they are prepared to enter the work force? Shouldn’t there be some accountability?
Fairfield County seniors live in a hyper competitive pressure pot. Be it varsity sports, AP and honors classes, early college experience and the intense workload. It is a double barrel. Parents, even one I know well, throw out the HPY stuff (Harvard Princeton Yale) or Brown without considering that prestige panic is in our water supply. Just look at the window stickers in every car and SUV. Why isn’t there an App for this?
I am fortunate to make an appointment to meet Susan Wexler, an educational consultant in Westport with years of experience. Susan is a certified educational planner CEP, and she told me that when looking for help it is important that the person be credentialed. Susan is a veritable walking encyclopedia for the college bound student and parent. She glides easily and knowledgeably from topics ranging from choosing the SAT vs. the ACT. How the tests are different, and how she and her staff of professional tutors evaluate this at the very beginning of the process. This is a prudent fact finding mission.
What struck me about Susan is how laid back she is. Perhaps I was expecting something else. I equivocate her calm cadence and gentle manner with the obvious knowledge and confidence of her ‘Having been there, done that”, which happens to also be the title of one of her more popular seminars. I compared her to a doula.
Instead of a nanny or a nurse, doulas assist and support the mother after childbirth to allow them to be at their best. Isn’t this ideal? Susan is the APP! I am eager to know what her outcomes are, and I follow up with this question, as I am guessing the question is posed to her with some frequency. Her response is that she does not have a stat sheet, no algorithms or an outcomes page. She isn’t selling a guarantee. She isn’t selling at all. And she doesn’t promise that. But don’t parents retaining her services expect this?
Wexler Educational Consultants offers a three-tier package. The most popular option appears to be the middle package, which they refer to as CAPES. The acronym is College Application Prepare Essay and Strategy. There is also a top tier, which is a comprehensive package. This level takes a student from the very beginning all the way through to receiving the acceptance letter. She also sees students at an hourly rate. She also has added a new area called Ultimate Educators. This is a full service tutoring and SAT/ACT preparation. There is an emphasis on writing and subject tutoring. All of the tutors, she told me, are excellent. A read of their varying bios certainly appears to be the case. I notice that all of them play Ultimate Frisbee as well as having formidable academic credentials.
What she explains to me is very straightforward. There are no guarantees. But I clearly get, in the short time we have spent, that the need and knowledge ‘gap’ is wide, and working ‘smart’ from the beginning streamlines the process, which saves time, perhaps wasted dollars, and improves chances. For example, she spoke of using early decision ‘appropriately’. Since my son had bet the ranch on his early decision app, largely because he not only identified the school as his first choice, but also because we were told that a student has a better chance. It made sense. Many colleges offer early decision which many take advantage of. Conventional thinking has leaded a lot of students to believe that this binding admission improves acceptance. I asked her what she meant by using early decision appropriately?
“It is a good option, and there is truth that applying for early decision ‘can’ be an advantage, but she adds a caveat, ‘only if the student is a good fit’. It is for the higher GPA and test scores. It is not necessarily for the B and C student.”
Susan has visited over three hundred and fifty colleges in her career and is required to visit fifty per year. After our meeting I had no question regarding her breadth of experience but I also trusted her instincts to read and engage each family and determine what their individual need is. I left her office wishing I had met her much earlier, and had been able to tap into this fine tuned machine. Be careful what you wish for.