Reflections from a Parent on The College Application: Part 1

By Rosie Reel

“Hit Submit?” our daughter questioned as she read aloud from her laptop.

Hit Submit: two little words with enormous implications: instructing the student to send off the college application for review.

“Are you ready to submit your application?” I asked from the kitchen, near her work place. I stayed far enough away to not see her laptop screen, but close enough to hear her type and talk. Like so many other instances throughout this college application process, I resisted the urge to leap over the counter and tap on the little button on her laptop myself: a maneuver one might consider overparenting.

I decided to keep quiet about it, or she might sense my anxiety.

“I’m not ready yet. Give me a minute!” She spoke to the college admissions department on the other side of the laptop. Because I had not interfered, it was the laptop that was being bossy, not me. I had actually never seen the application, but I still could feel those two little words of instruction—Hit Submit–like the footsteps of an intruder lurking around the house.

She was at the final stage of her application.

It felt like forever since she had sat down behind the laptop that evening. But I was not the applicant. I was just the parent, the one sitting in the passenger seat, holding on for dear life. I kept cleaning the kitchen, waiting for the application to be sent. I scrubbed the counters over and over and swept the floor. The kitchen had never looked so clean. Everything sparkled so brightly I could have blamed it for my headache, had it not been for the college application process tormenting my daughter.

“Have you read it over? I bet it’s acceptable to send,” I encouraged.

“Wait, one more read-over!” she said.

“Just send it,” I pleaded, trying to act mellow. The last thing I wanted to sound like was how I really felt: panicked.

Earlier that evening, a storm had shut off our electricity. The lights flickered and suddenly, no power: no laptop.

The application was due at 11:59 pm, in less than an hour.

So our daughter, the college applicant, sought a solution.

“I just talked with Jessie,” she informed me. “Her mom said if we send a record of our electric bill and the power outage, admissions will give us more time: they’ll extend the deadline.”

Of course, Jessie’s mom: another person who knew more than I did about the college application process. If there was any question about anything, her mom would know. Now her scene was college: she had experienced the application process with her children–and with flying colors. She seemed to know about everything imaginable related to college: everything. But what she didn’t know was how I yearned for this whole application process to end. She was not the only parent eager to chat about the subject over a coffee, probably the healthy thing to do: talk it out. But the subject made me nervous and managed to turn a great cup of coffee into a brew that tasted as bitter as I was feeling.

While the application was pretty close to finished, the essay still needed proofreading.

When the power went out, it always made paper seem so much more practical: Wasn’t it easier to send off an application in a stamped manilla envelope? I was starting to resent this online application. But then again–I had to remind myself–I was the passenger, not the driver.

When the electricity came back, a half hour before the deadline, we cheered: “Hooray! A miracle! It’s a sign!” We laughed.

Then we quieted up and got serious. We felt the pressure: only 20 minutes to go.

“Just hit submit,” I said. “You don’t need an extended deadline, it’s already finished!” Was I getting bossy? I didn’t care anymore. It was late at night. I was tired and needed sleep for tomorrow: it would be a new day full of worrying about college again.

“Just one more reread,” stated our daughter, skimming the screen.

The clock was ticking. It was still pretty stormy outside: what if we lost power again? Now she only had ten minutes before the deadline. “Send it away!” I urged, our daughter’s eyes still glued to her laptop. She was not quite ready.

“No, wait, hold on, just a minute!” she said, seriously, now ten minutes before the application was due.

“Please, just send it!” I urged, not at all mellow this time.

“Ok, I am about to do it,” she said, holding her breath, focused on her work.

“Go for it!” I pleaded.

Silence, a long minute of quiet.

“Submit! There! Done!” she said.

That was seven years ago, that evening of panic and relief. I suppose you could say I have recovered. The process had a successful outcome: our daughter graduated from college and works in a city she loves, and our middle daughter is a college sophomore. They’ve subsequently applied to various institutions: passports, sororities, internships, jobs. I doubt they have ever felt the stress of those college applications. To “Hit Submit” meant relief.

I hadn’t thought too much about the college application process until a close friend recently texted me. Her high school senior had just sent in his final college application.

“How did you do it?” she asked, referring to the enduring of parenthood during the college application process. I knew her well enough to realize she wondered mostly how I handled the emotional part of it all: knowing your eldest child would be leaving home, applying for a new life somewhere else. It was flattering to think someone else thought of me as someone who might offer advice. It was a simple question, being polite, giving me credit for handling the process alright.

I tried to encourage my friend.

Feeling optimistic, I responded to her text: “You’re an ace!” I typed.

She replied, “You are!”

So, now she was encouraging me!

“How did I do it?” I repeated her question. Suddenly a catchphrase came to mind. It sounded perfect for the occasion. “Let it Go!” I wrote.

Then this elaboration: “Your son has applied to college. He has learned how to assert himself in a competitive world. Congratulations! Now, for a while, until you hear back from the colleges, be proud of your son for his bravery, his stamina, his work ethic: he did it! And so did you! Now ‘Let it Go!’”

“Hit Submit” started sounding like a launch of a missile, sending the applicant into the abyss. Could a student really be represented by high school grades and accomplishments? I would like it if the process could become a little nicer. Even a little detail could make a difference. Wouldn’t it be nice if the final part of a college application told the applicant: “You Did It!” “Go Hug a Parent or Guardian” or “Get Some Sleep!” or “Tell Your Parent or Guardian to Get Some Sleep and Stop Cleaning the Kitchen!”

“Hit Submit” also sounded a little nicer when looking at the grand picture: something to be celebrated: the final step of the lengthy, stressful process. In fact, applying to college required a ton of courage. It helped to keep things in perspective.

For many high school students, college really is like going to a faraway planet, a place they would never consider stepping foot on. Some plan on a Gap Year, where they take on experiences such as travel or work or volunteering. And some other students might prefer to live at home to save money from work, then apply to college later on. The insecurity of not knowing the future manifests itself in so many high school seniors and their parents or guardians: applying to college represents just the beginning.

In a couple years, the “Hit Submit!” will enter our house again, instructing our youngest daughter to send off her college application. The process might seem a little easier now–we have a generator now. If we lose power, the application can still be submitted. The application will still be driven by the student, the process will remain competitive and intense. Hopefully, the hard work will end up being so worthwhile, just as it was with our other daughters..


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