(A little too) Early Admission?

It was about this time, one year ago, when the mounting stress of college applications began to creep into the back of my mind, where it would nestle for the rest of my junior and senior years. For me, and for perhaps many of my classmates, the last two semesters have been riddled with seemingly countless nights of studying for standardized tests, writing up descriptions of all my extra-curricular activities, and reading over my college essay until I had it all but memorized. As if the workload we had to put into our applications wasn’t enough, it was coupled with the crippling fear of failure and disappointment and sleep deprivation. I know I’m not the only senior who has doubted herself, wondered whether I would be able to make it through the stress, and waited for what felt like forever before hearing back from schools.

A few weeks ago, I was on a panel with some other seniors to talk to the junior class about college applications. As I answered their frantic questions about everything from how to start college essays to whether to take the ACT, I felt like I was talking to a younger version of myself. I remember what it was like to feel lost and anxious about the year to come. I remember the fear of possible college rejections and the need to do anything I could to prevent them.

While I think I can speak for most current seniors when I say that it feels like we’ve been going through this process for years, many kids seem to be starting it even earlier. This is certainly the case at Johnsonville Elementary School in rural Harnett County, North Carolina, where first graders in teacher Kelli Rigo’s class already have their dream colleges selected. In a writing assignment, the children fill out a mock application in which they share their choice of school and the career they wish to pursue. One of the first-graders, who is set on Harvard, notes that she can’t wait to go to Cambridge because “my mom never lets me go anywhere.”

The reason behind starting these kids so young is to have them focused on their goals early enough to give them a better chance of achieving them. As explained by Wendy Segal, a tutor and college planner in Westchester County, NY, “It’s sort of like, if you want your kids to be in the Olympics or to have the chance to be in the Olympics you don’t wait until your kid is 17 and say, ‘My kid really loves ice skating.’ You start when they are 5 or 6.”

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This “college and career ready” mantra has been encouraged by K-12 teachers all across the United States who prepare activities such as “college weeks” and campus-tour field trips. These tours have become increasingly popular, with schools such as the University of Maryland having to limit visiting slots as they “had so many requests, [they] were doing tours five days a week.” The program director for visitor services, Betty Spengler said, “It became impossible to sustain.” A group of 65 sixth-graders from Magnolia Elementary School who paid a visit to the campus were thoroughly impressed with the food (a Chick-fil-A in the basement of the student center!) and the 54,000-seat football stadium. After piling their cafeteria trays with fried chicken and pizza, they were sold. “At first I wanted to go to Harvard,” said 11-year-old David Oladimejij, “In the news I heard that Harvard is the best college, but I think Maryland is the best.”

Since I started researching colleges in my sophomore year, my choice of dream school and major have changed drastically. My 15-year-old self would have never considered some of the schools I ended up applying to. A piece of advice I gave to the junior class when I talked to them was to keep an open mind and remember that what they want for their futures now many not be what they want in six months. Despite the possible benefits, helping kids focus on their goals from a young age could be counterproductive, as no one knows if they will have the same dreams in a few years. All I know is, a few years of college application stress was enough for me, and I’m glad I didn’t have to start stressing out as a first-grader.

Source: nytimes.com