Magazine article University Business

Motherly Advice: One College President's Vision for Guiding Her Son through the College Selection Process

Magazine article University Business

Motherly Advice: One College President's Vision for Guiding Her Son through the College Selection Process

Article excerpt

OVER THE YEARS MY SON Sparkey, now 10, has voiced several different career aspirations. At five, becoming a Power Ranger--specifically the red one--was a must do; at six he wanted to become a fireman who lived in a station located near our home so he could be on time for breakfast; during the past few years he has wavered between becoming an architect or a professional Lego builder.

To my ears, what I am hearing is that he is a perfect candidate for a liberal arts education. Naturally, I am biased. As president of Pitzer College (Calif.), a liberal arts college specializing in the social sciences and international study, I can easily envision him as a happy incoming first-year student. As a mother, I would love to be able to observe firsthand my only child's transformative educational experience. Reality, though--as all parents recognize--is often very different from our fond imaginings.

Over the past four years, Pitzer has experienced an application increase of 48 percent, improving selectivity from 57 percent to 37 percent, thus making it one of the 30 most selective liberal arts institutions in the nation. While this certainly places the institution in an enviable position, gauging from the reaction from prospective parents and students, our success can be a bit daunting to their hopes for acceptance. Emotions and collective familial stress runs high, particularly from the high school sophomore to senior years.

Pitzer's annual spring On-Campus Day for admitted students and their parents, by coincidence, invariably falls on my son's birthday. Last year I spent the first part of my morning listening to my son's fourth-grade class sing him "Happy Birthday." Then I drove to the college to deliver my welcoming remarks. As I looked around at the nervous seniors and emotional parents, the two sides of my life as mother and president came together in a single moment. I told the parents where I had just been and shared with the students that their parents could still see them at that age joyously singing. What's more, their parents had to be utterly shocked by just how quickly all those years evaporated and how all too soon their former fourth-graders were about to leave home. …

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