An Open Letter to You College Brochure Sender-Outers

Oddly, this photo didn't make it into Swarthmore's 62-page color brochure
TO: All U.S. colleges and universities, private, public and in between

FROM: Mom of a high school junior

Dear sirs,

What is the matter with you? What are you people doing over there?

My son, who is ending his junior year of high school, is receiving letters, brochures and booklets from you people daily.  Some of them are so big and three-dimensional, they come in actual boxes. Some have photos of super model college students lounging on campus grassy knolls that are better quality than the exhibits at the MoMA.

We’re mixing signals here.

I pick up Time magazine, my local paper or any other publication - print or otherwise - and all I hear is how hard it is for the average high school student to get into college these days. Did I say average? I mean above average, with an SAT score of 2300, a GPA of 3.95 and a class rank of 90th percentile.

“Phphhhh!” the articles say. “Colleges are becoming more and more picky. You can’t get into even a public university without AP credits, a resume filled with community service and internships, recommendations from professors you haven’t met yet, and a runner-up spot on Teen Jeopardy.” 

“But wait a tic,” I say, “my son is smart, does well in school, participates in athletics, and can get up and tell jokes at a banquet. He’s passed the CATs, the DOGs, and the track team drug test. He’d be a fine asset to any university.”

“Community college would be good for him,” the articles respond. “Or the Duke wait list.”

Then why is he being courted by every higher learning institution on earth? According to my calculations, colleges are spending approximately a very large sum of money producing these materials and mailing them out to pretty much every 16- to 17-year-old American.

Here’s me, going out to the mailbox. I have to take the Little Tykes wheelbarrow to carry back my son’s mail, which is asking - no, begging, luring and enticing - him to consider going to Harvard, Yale, Boston College, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and The Ohio Clown College.

They all seem confident that he is a perfect fit for each of these schools, from Princeton to Bob Jones University. They stress that they’re sure he would love it there and thrive and succeed like no high school student has ever succeeded before!

Do they know my son? 

He wants to major in journalism and he gets invitations to teachers’ colleges, engineering schools, trade schools and Marine training programs. He’s Catholic and he gets ads for fundamentalist Bible colleges in Arkansas where they handle snakes. He’s a boy and he’s been invited to Wellesley College.  The letters that accompany the booklets tell him personally that they’d be honored to have him.

They’re making it tough on us parents, who are spending our after-school hours convincing our kids that they need to study harder, do the extra-credit project and kiss their teachers’ collective butt just to get into a school that has a dorm and more than one entree in the cafeteria.

“If you want to ever get out of this house, you better study that German vocab one more time, buddy!”  

He looks up from his stack of mail from that day and smirks.  “According to David Skorton, president of Cornell University, I’m just the kind of  achievement oriented high school student that would be an asset to Cornell’s longstanding tradition of excellence.”

Fine, go with that. But when you spend a semester of tuition money on application fees to schools that won’t accept you, maybe Dr. Skorton will help out with some book money at Florida State.


Bitter and Been There in Kentucky