“I want to drop my foreign language and take sewing instead,” is a punch line on the college-bound track. No one is advising a high school student to do that. If the same kid has earned multiple Cs and a D heading into junior year, their parents will worry that options will be slim for their student after high school. I am here to assure you that you can relax if your child’s freshman year just ended badly.
My daughter gave me that sewing punch line early in her high school career. It was about the same time that she dropped band. I was beside myself. It felt like she was reading articles about preparing for college admissions, and then doing the opposite. By the end of her freshman year, I began to wonder if she would even earn the opportunity to attend college.
It seems silly now that she has graduated and we’ve put down the first tuition deposit. Online, I read stories written by mothers who are heartbroken by the college selection process. A valedictorian with a 1400 SAT, 4.6 GPA and excellent athletic and academic achievements is offered no merit aid; a student who did everything right and was accepted into zero of 10 schools. My daughter, on the other hand, was accepted into nine of nine schools and was offered merit aid by each. Granted, she’s not majoring in engineering at CMU, but we are all excited for what her future holds.
She knew intuitively what it takes some people ages to learn: the only way out of the rat race is to stop running. She did not win a state title nor stack her resume with leadership skills. She sat in math class and wrote stories, and then wrote her college essay about that. I tried to advise her against this; it didn’t seem right to be so open about how much you detest math in a college essay. I was wrong about that, too. Not only was fashion arts a great decision for her, it turns out that saying who you are and what you want is exactly what admissions officers look for in a college essay.
College is about finding the right college for your kid, not making your kid the right fit for the right college. Most colleges and universities cannot build freshman classes on STEM majors alone and they know it. A kid on an upward trajectory can compensate for a less than desirable GPA in freshman and sophomore years, especially if they rock junior year of high school. Unique resumes aren’t a catastrophe, and resilience is respected. You can be an irresponsible kid at 15 years old without ruining your life forever!
As your kids pursue their high school careers, remember that this is about them. If you have an ambitious kid who checks all the right boxes, that’s great. Count your lucky stars and support them. But, if you don’t… if you have a kid who isn’t driven by academic success or earning the highest grade in the class… don’t sweat it. Support them, too! There are lots of paths to success, even in a college and university admissions process that appears to only care about scores. If I knew in my daughter’s freshman year of high school what I know the summer after her graduation, I wouldn’t have worried that sewing was a big mistake. I would have smiled and bought a machine.