Perspective power

Nate was an early Collegewise student of mine who had remarkable talent and passion for music. I remember when he brought a CD (it was 2002) to one of our meetings so I could hear an original song he’d written. It sounded great, and when I asked him about the band on the recording, he modestly revealed that he’d played all the instruments—both guitars, the bass, and the drums—himself, and then mixed them together into a fluid recording. We got back to researching appropriate colleges with music programs. He was a smart, nice, interesting kid. And I’d really been enjoying working with him.

But after one of our meetings, he and his family stopped returning my phone calls. Almost two months later, his mother finally called me back. I still remember her exact words because they hit me so hard.

I’m so sorry we haven’t been in touch. I just wanted to be honest and tell you what’s been going on in our family. We learned that Nate has a pretty serious substance abuse problem, so we’ve pulled him out of school to get him the help he needs. I don’t know how this is all going to turn out, but it might be awhile before we can focus on college for him again.

She was so calm, measured, and genuinely concerned about her son. The college planning didn’t matter for the time being. Nate’s life was a lot more important than his GPA.

Not more than an hour later, another parent called me in tears because her son’s SAT scores hadn’t risen as high after his tutoring program as they’d hoped. She wanted to discuss what “could be done to fix this.”

I’m not marginalizing her reaction to her son’s scores, especially given her money and his time that they’d invested (though disappointment was probably a more appropriate reaction than tears). But I remember thinking about the power of perspective, and that while both parents were just wanting what was best for their kids, one had a lot more to realistically worry about than the other did.

The college admissions process can chip away at even the calmest, sanest parent’s perspective. When fellow parents around you seem so concerned about grades and test scores and candidacy for prestigious colleges, you can almost feel negligent as a parent if you don’t engage at the same level so many other parents seem to be lured to do.

But when you feel that pressure getting to you, take a step back and ask yourself some honest questions. Is this a problem worth worrying about? Is there a potential outcome that could cause your student legitimate long-term damage to their health or happiness? Will this issue really matter in 10 years, in 10 months, or even in 10 days?

I’ve never heard a parent of a grown adult say that everything would have been different if their son or daughter had just gotten into AP Bio or raised their ACT score or been accepted to Brown back in high school. Perspective can save your college admissions process, and your parental sanity.

This week, I heard from Nate. He didn’t go on to college, but today he’s happy, sober, and succeeding in his career. He also sent me a photo of his infant son…perched atop Dad’s guitar.

Parents, no matter what happens during your college planning, please maintain your perspective. Your child’s future is everything, but their future college is not.