At my most recent presentation of “College Admissions Secrets for Parents and Teens,” I tried something brand new. I took off my college coach cap for a few minutes and donned my parenting hat (I have two teens, one at college, one still in high school). I asked the parents in the room to dream with me for a few minutes. Imagine, I said, it’s the twilight of your child’s middle school years and you’re dreaming your most hopeful dream of what his or her high school experience will be like. If you could write the script—sky’s the limit—how would you map out the next four years, the high school years, of your child’s life?
I made some suggestions and was pleased to see nods and other signs of affirmation from my parent peers:
- First, we’d probably all agree it would be nice for our kids to LEARN something in high school. To get, um, an education. To learn what they’re supposed to learn from the curriculum the school offers them. Maybe even, too, since we’re writing the script, we’d wish for our kids that they’d excel academically—maybe not in every class, but maybe in SOME area of academics—that they’d get excited about learning SOMETHING, that they’d become passionate about one or more of their classes.
- We’d probably also dream for our kids that they’d develop some social skills as well, that they’d continue to learn to play nicely in the sandbox with the other boys and girls, and that such an education might take place in the context of some kind of productive, useful, and fun activity, whether in school or out of school. Maybe through sports and teamwork, maybe through the performing arts and collaboration, maybe through tech crew or debate team or a rock band. And since we’re dreaming, maybe we’d wish for our kids to have some opportunities to step up to leadership positions, or to take initiative somewhere, as a training ground for their adult lives when they may well want to assume leadership roles. Of course we’d want that for our children.
- And maybe we’d want them to have an experience of community service, where they’re giving freely of their time and energies to others who are, for whatever reason, less fortunate or underserved or simply in need.
- And finally, only because we know that standardized testing is a fact of high school and college life and that, for better or for worse, such tests still play a disproportionately important role in the determining the choices available to our children, we’d probably wish for them to become skilled and well-prepared test takers. Nobody likes high-stakes standardized tests, but when it comes time to applying for college, and perhaps graduate school farther down the road, they are an important facet of our kids’ high school careers, and we’d likely dream for them to be well-prepared and competent with such exams, silly or useless as those exams may ultimately be.
So there’s the broad outline of a dream I think most parents would share for their kids on the eve of high school: they’d get a quality general education and perhaps get a fire lit for one or more subjects; they’d develop social skills and have leadership opportunities in sports or in-school or out-of-school activities with other kids; they’d perform some kind of personally meaningful and useful community service; and that, along the way, they’d pick up adequate knowledge and skills surrounding the standardized tests they’ll have to take to move on in education.
And then I hit them with the punch line, which can serve as a kind of CPE mission statement, or at least underpinning philosophy or pedagogy to which we at CollegePrepExpress subscribe: all these facets of the dream—the academics, extracurricular activities, community service, and test-taking skills that we’d script for our kids if we could—are exactly what a good player of the college admissions game turns into reality during four years in high school. By playing the college admissions game well—that is, by attending to grades, to activities and athletics, to community service, and to standardized test-taking knowledge and skill—students will have a full, rich, and rewarding high school experience that will serve them well in the next phase of their development in college. Isn’t this what we’d want for our kids even without the college admissions game? And this explains why we take so much pride in what we do at CPE: we’re not simply helping students get into their top choice schools, we’re helping them have the best high school experience available to them.