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The College Admissions Scandal Won't Change How I Parent

Diane Schwemm

We’re all still buzzing about the college admissions scandal that broke last week, and the story is certain to bob back into the headlines as more details emerge. The criminal investigation and resulting national discussion is shining a light on admissions practices at highly selective institutions and the complicated layers of inequity that exist even when applicants follow legal and approved paths to admission.

This may be just the tip of the “side door” iceberg. The debate will continue.

But today I just want to talk about being a parent, and how the scandal has got me thinking but isn’t going to change what I do. And that’s not because I’m a perfect parent by any means. Heavens, no.

Here I'll point out that I'm wearing two hats right now — I’m the editor at CollegiateParent and also the mother of two sons in college and a recent graduate. So I’m in the trenches with you, and what I’d like to say is: Keep doing what you’re doing, dear reader.

You’re here — we’re all here together — because we care about our kids.

We college moms and dads are a diverse group, from all around the country and different types of family backgrounds. Some of us didn’t go to college ourselves; others have advanced degrees. We may be staying home with children or working full- or part-time outside the home. Some of us are hands-off types while others have to work really hard to resist the urge to helicopter/snowplow. But we do resist, because we want what’s best for our students.

This is not to say we’re martyrs to the cause of raising perfect children (we know that’s an impossible goal). We’re not always the “best” parents, and they sure as heck aren’t always the “best” kids. Wanting what’s best is something different.

Wanting what’s best for our students is about being present in their lives. Wanting what’s best for them is about sharing our values and holding our daughters and sons to high standards.

Wanting what’s best for them means helping them discover and create opportunities to grow in new and challenging ways. Wanting what’s best for them means being their safe home base — someplace to go forth from and come back to, where they will always be unconditionally loved and accepted.

Wanting what’s best for them means helping them develop into the people they are meant to be. It's about them, not us.

When it comes to college, wanting what’s best for them means helping them prepare to make the most of the opportunity of higher education. It means empowering them to make their own choices. 

So, nasty as it all is, maybe we should be grateful for the "Operation Varsity Blues" scandal. It’s always a good thing to be prompted to reflect — about some of the things we do for our children, or might do in certain circumstances. Then we can recommit to doing what we feel is right to do, to the best of our ability:

  • Help them hone their abilities as curious, self-motivated students who take charge of their own learning.
  • Support them in finding the things they love to do and encourage their commitment to their interests — not to pad their resumes but so they can experience challenge and joy.
  • Model character and integrity in our own actions and choices.
  • Give them responsibilities. Teach them how to do things on their own and self-advocate.
  • Let them make mistakes and fix them on their own. Show them that we, too, are imperfect works-in-progress.
  • Listen to them so that they can tell us what they dream of and imagine for their future.
  • Support their authenticity and uniqueness.
  • Have fun with them and enjoy them (when they’re not driving us nuts).
  • Keep perspective when it comes to college planning, grades, standardized test scores, and everything else.
  • Affirm that what will matter isn’t where they attend college but what they do once they get there.

Because education is something our students make happen through their own hard work and creativity when they get to campus — whether it’s a big school or a small school, the state university or a community college. It’s not something the institution delivers to them like a pizza.

So, on we go on this adventure of being a parent. In the day-to-day, it’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. I'm in it for the long haul. I know you feel the same way.

CollegiateParent will keep talking about this issue and sharing information, resources and personal stories about the many topics college parents and families care, wonder and worry about. It takes a village and we’re committed to building a supportive community.

If you're starting the college search/prep process with your student, we have some good reading for you on our High School Parent page — take a look! We look forward to hearing your questions and benefiting from your insights, so be in touch any time.

Diane Schwemm is a writer and Managing Editor at CollegiateParent. She and her husband are parents of a college student and two recent graduates. In her off hours, she likes to read, hike and garden and, thanks to the influence of her family, appreciates ballet and basketball equally.
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2 years ago

Amen. The scandal really changes little about how unfair we knew the process already was. But it's a good reminder to reflect, especially in the season of college acceptances and rejections. Excellent article!

Sande Johnson
Sande Johnson
2 years ago

This is a well written article and the key take away for me as a parent of aspiring young adults can be best summed up by your reflection on my parental role, "helping them prepare to make the most of the opportunity of higher education. It means empowering them to make their own choices." Thank you!

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