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College Admissions Anxiety: Let’s Start With Babies!

Dartmouth onesie on pregnant belly.Quick: Name things that babies and college kids have in common.

If you said being up at odd hours of the night and an appreciation of footie pajamas, good guesses!

If you said beer pong, then I’m cancelling our next playdate.

And if you said wearing college-branded clothing then, ding ding ding, you win the prize for paying attention to the photo in this blog. (Your reward is my gratitude. I’m a blogger, not a billionaire, people.)

As the parents of infants, we’re relatively insulated from the “college admissions madness” consuming teens and their parents right now. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have college on our brains — or at least, in our children’s dresser drawers.

My sons may have a better chance of ascending to the papacy than matriculating at the Big Green…

Those with fond memories of college often can’t help but dress their babies in pricey onesies and t-shirts emblazoned with the names of their alma maters. It’s a sartorial combination of cuteness and nostalgia that, for many of us, is also tethered to some vicarious aspirations…Maybe Junior will go to [insert college name] just like dear old mom did!

I’ve heard from friends like Dartmouth College graduate Amanda Morris, who doesn’t even have kids yet but knows that college duds will be part of her future babies’ wardrobes.

“My child will definitely be rocking the Dartmouth onesie!” she said. “I’m all for indoctrinating my future children.”

Amanda, I think, was half-kidding, but here’s where the ha-ha’s turn into uh-ohs: The chances of her hypothetical children and my real ones actually getting into competitive schools like Dartmouth, which I also attended, are not so great.

When I was accepted, back in the dark ages of 1999, Dartmouth’s admission rate was more than 20 percent. Last year, it fell below 10 percent. (UPDATE, 3/29/2013: Seven Ivy League schools report that their acceptance rates this year have fallen since last year, with Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Princeton all below 8 percent, according to the New York Times. Dartmouth’s edged back up to roughly 10 percent.)

Being the children of Dartmouth alumni would likely give them an edge, but if the downward trend in admissions rates continue, two decades from now my sons may have a better chance of ascending to the papacy than matriculating at the Big Green…or any other selective school for that matter. (Though if Scrunchy Face or Saucer Eyes did manage to become Pope at 18, it would make for one heck of an application essay.)

There may be some relief from admissions anxiety for those applying in the next few years. As the Washington Post reports, a recent study forecasts that the number of U.S. high school graduates — read: potential college applicants — will actually drop below the current 3.3 million and won’t see a significant jump until 2020.

As for the rest of us…Some of my friends joke that they’ll have to move to states that certain colleges prize for adding geographic diversity to their student body — i.e. an applicant from Nebraska may be looked at more favorably than one from New Jersey.

I, for one, am too lazy to even contemplate a move, but I am hoping that Scrunchy Face, when he enters his teen years, wins a national hula hoop championship and then discovers a way to use hula hoops to create filters for potable drinking water in Bangladesh. What college — my alma mater included — could resist?

The wise thing to do, of course, is not panic and be confident that our kids, if they choose to attend college at all, will ultimately wind up at a place that makes them happy and inspires them to do great things for the sake of humanity, not for the sake of a fancy degree.

Anna Graubart, who holds degrees from two competitive universities, has a remarkably well-adjusted attitude toward the whole thing.

Yes, she dresses her children in clothes from her alma maters but “I am not so prideful that I think a choice I made at 17 for myself should apply to my children that I had 17 years later 17 years from now,” she told me.

You go, Anna! As for me, I’ve got some hula hoops to buy…right after I finish squeezing Scrunchy Face into his newest Dartmouth onesie.

No pressure, kiddo.

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