I actually saw a commercial on TV in the wee hours one morning a month ago that made me stop in my tracks and watch, it was so compelling. It featured a young toddler (you know, the ones who struggle for balance and walk like Godzilla), teetering from side to side in slightly slow motion as he walks down his home’s long corridor toward the glass paneled door. The ad is for Air B&B and though many thought it creepy, I love it.
That little human, so proud to be up on two legs, struggling to hold his balance as he moves towards the object of his desire (what’s out there in the big world?) reminds me of teenagers getting ready to apply to college.
They say that human development is one big spiral, repeating over and over as we age. Teenagers go through toddlerhood (you’re not the boss of me!) but in a more sophisticated way. They share the same biological imperative to move on up, albeit with much more fear than they had when they were two and learning to literally keep up with the others around them.
When they were two and fell one hundred times learning to stand upright, modern teenagers were greeted by smiles and loving encouragement from the adults around them. No adult would think of criticizing a little cruiser trying to walk.
But God help them if the same Big Toddlers fall when they are in high school. All hell rains down on them. They are most often medicated to adjust their attitude.
I’ve had several students call me in a panic over the past month. They were over-committed in their senior year and their grades went down this spring after their college acceptance because “I was hurrying to get all I could from my high school experience”, meaning “I was struggling to meet everyone’s expectations of me.” The colleges they committed to on May 1 were suddenly not as committed to them.
It used to be that seniors’ grades slipped due to ‘senioritis‘, as they blew off school to do nothing.
Now their grades drop as they try to finish the many commitments they developed in order to please the adults in their world and get admitted to college.
Sorry, college admissions colleagues, but you guys are culpable here. You can’t expect teenagers to be perfect over-achievers in order to give you bragging rights when you admit them and then cut them off when they struggle to keep up at the end. Kids live in the real world where things are complicated and genuinely unforgiving.
Admissions officers live in a vicarious one, making decisions on applications – not real humans – and think they understand KidWorld because they read so many essays. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Kids will always tell admissions officers what they think they want to hear. They inflate their applications and have many other adults write their essays. I’ve experienced applicants one way as an admissions officer and a completely different way as an educational consultant in the trenches with them. All admissions officers should spend a year or two as an independent consultant before becoming Gatekeepers again so they can get rooted in the reality of applicants’ lives.
The focus on pleasing the Gatekeepers (admissions officers) supercedes everything because in this era, it’s about spin.
Kids just want to keep moving and are doing what adults tell them is necessary to get in. Admissions officers want to admit “the best” to leverage their position on USNWR and to brag to their board of trustees, alumni and specific audiences. Gone are the days of the real and true ‘match’. It looks to me that all of the nations’ best universities, maybe even including my own beloved MIT, have been usurped by a business model and so are driving down the wrong road, however well-intentioned.
If all of us adults involved in college admissions would see applicants as Big Toddlers (or better yet, Toddlers with Hormones), we would be more likely to do things right and train the next generation of human beings to revel in their authenticity.