Essay/Resume dilemma

Here is the situation: Although my son has grown to be the most opposite of me, the major he’s decided to pick is the same as mine and my wife’s. Yes, my wife and I met in college as undergrad, and then met again in grad school, studied the same major.

It’s been unavoidable that my son, since very little, has been exposed to my research and my wife’s projects. I still remember bringing him to a DoD site in CO back when he was 5 to see me doing research. Over the years, he has not only got involved in my work (college research), but also has been guided by his mom to design and build some really cool systems. His mom is the finest engineer I’ve met, a practice leader of her discipline at a national engineering firm, to put things in context.

Because he is our son, we had decided that he will NOT mention anything he has done with either me or my wife, NOT in his resume, NOT in his essay, NOT even during the interview. Of course, I never included my son as co-author in any of my publications. Were he not my son, I would have given credit to him by offering authorship, although my wife and I both believe our son has accumulated a great knowledge, top-level understanding, and broad vision of this field, which you rarely see for kids his age.

Now, he recently interviewed with an extremely competitive university, ivy with <5% acceptance rate. The interviewers liked him so much that they told him there is another candidate who is also applying to the same major, but with more experience in this discipline. The interviewers also said they will recommend my son, but it sounded like the interviewers hinted my son’s academic preparation in this major is insufficient compared with the other student, so they were not sure how the rest of people in the admissions committee would feel about it.

I’m 100% confident in my son’s academic readiness in this discipline. The challenge is, will there be moral or ethical issues if my son started mentioning the work and achievements he did with me and my wife?

I don’t understand why he wouldn’t include this experience, because it is real, regardless it was done with you and/or your wife. Why hide it? Especially since it seems that it could be a differentiator…maybe/maybe not for college admissions, but certainly for future internships and jobs.

Regarding the example of authorship on the research paper, I could easily make the case it was less than ethical to not put your son as a co-author, when you state had it been anyone else you would have put them as a co-author.

Was this an interview with alumni or admissions? If alum, I don’t know of any Ivy where the alum interview holds much, if any, influence in admissions.


This is an arm’s length issue which is tricky to handle. That’s why we would rather not touching it.

My son’s credentials are pretty strong, I had thought his application would be stellar w/o mentioning the work he did with his parents. It just feels ironic we are now in a situation like this.

The interviewers work for the school in the admissions. But, the decision will be a group decision, eventually.

Interviews, afaik, don’t hold much sway in admissions decisions. It’s hard to believe a college interviewer told him that he was being compared to another student with more experience. That’s just weird and probably unethical.

I also don’t know why he wouldn’t mention his experience. There are probably millions of people in the world who have gained experience and started careers by working alongside parents, ore getting a job due to parental connections. We all know this happens. Why not just talk about his experience? He doesn’t have to preface anything with “My parents got me the opportunity to research/got me the job/it was at my parents’ work…”


The thing is he is competing with tens of thousands of top students, many with impressive experiences including research…some with their parents, some found thru connections of their parents, some found independently.

There isn’t much to do wrt the interview now, but I strongly encourage your S to add these experiences to his activities section on the common app, and his resume.


Not claiming all his great work will be a competitive disadvantage for him. If you do the work - claim the work.

1 Like

Thanks all for offering perspectives. Our family will have to make a decision soon.

As side stories, my connection, herself being top researcher at a top-notch school, sent her kid to study with me to avoid this situation. I also have two friends, one at HMS, the other at MIT, they sent their kids to each other’s labs, out of similar considerations.

Both my husband and I are researchers at different labs and in both our workplaces there are many strict rules in place to avoid working with, hiring, giving internships and other leg-up advantages to relatives. You mentioned DoD labs and it seems strange to me that they would allow your kid to work alongside you. Anyway… What we, as parents, think of our kids, and what the world at large thinks are two completely different entities. I’m sure your son is fabulous, and that he will find his path with your family’s strong support. When I read your post, I thought he was interviewing for grad school. I wouldn’t worry about what an undergrad admissions interviewer said or did not say. They always seem to LOVE the candidates and then the rejection letters come as a surprise. Good luck to your son!

1 Like

Aw…You sweet talker you. I bet you say that to all the girls.

Is there an ethical issue? Well, if your son has already interviewed, he’s already applied, so hasn’t that ship sailed?

Very often, the answer to ethical issues is disclosure. Yes, he did X, Y and Z, and yes he’s you son. Will that influences his chances? Maybe. In what direction? Hard to tell, especially as we would be comparing to some counterfactual universe. It is what it is.

I’ve interviewed a couple hundred students for MIT. I have never been asked to rank applicants. I have never gone out and ranked applicants on my own. I sure would not tell one student where they ranked with respect to another, especially in the same cycle. That is wrong on so many levels.


The decision to bring my son (and grandpa, my father) to CO was the only choice I had. My wife was out of town, a hurricane was forming, I had to pack my little man and old man into my van, and went to the site with me. They stayed at the hotel, but there was once when I tested the equipment in the parking lot, my son “helped”. He entered the site once though, at the invitation of someone.

Also good to learn about the “LOVE” part being accompanied with rejection letters. I’ll see how it goes.

Still admiring my girl after so many years, only her… :slight_smile:

Great advice on disclosure. List his experiences in the supplemental document, and fully disclose the facts that he did all those with his parents.

I’m wishing him an acceptance of course! But he should be prepared for all outcomes. I hope he has some not so lottery-like schools on his wish list.

I don’t understand the issue. Whether in an interview, an application or essay I would think he would describe his experience and accomplishments, and if any are related to or created by parents, he can say so.

Is the issue that you will somehow get in trouble?

The 1st issue is that this is an ethical or moral challenge because clearly my son has an advantage here which makes the competition (for college admission) seem unfair for other kids.

The 2nd issue is subtle in that the reviewer would possibly have a question mark in his or her mind, questioning whether this applicant’s achievements and understanding are truly the applicant’s or the parents’.

I understand your point, but there are many HS students who have research experience. IME, it’s not rare. For example, my D did research as a HSer in a lab at a local T20 uni, and there were three other HSers in just her lab. There were many other HSers on that campus participating in research too. Just my two cents from someone who works with HSers in the college admission process.

With that said it is a great EC to have, and as I said above I do think you S should include it on his resume and common app activities.

What decision? The app is in and the interview is done, yes?

He was FIVE. If you were a shoemaker he would have seen you making shoes. Kids see what their parents do. I went to my parent’s workplaces growing up, but a) it wouldn’t have given me a meaningful boost for college/grad school and b) I still chose a very different career. This made me wonder if you aren’t over-thinking this a bit. On the other hand, this:

got my attention. Why is there a connection in this story? is that part of why he has already had been seen by an interview panel?

LIKED?! I have been an interviewer and if I ‘liked’ an applicant I wouldn’t hand them months of anxiety by telling them that they are good but that there is another who is in a very specific way more qualified than they are. I wouldn’t even do that to a job applicant until the decision was made.

Then clearly he’s not the only one with an advantage!

I am genuinely shocked that an official uni interviewer would tell a student that there is another applicant who is more qualified in that field - and equally astonished that a uni would tell a HS student that their prep is insufficient for their planned major.* @MITPhysicsAlum does this seem plausible to you? could it be that the student have misinterpreted the interview panel?

*unless it is something like CalTech and the student hasn’t done Calc BC / MIT and the student is in Algebra I as a senior / etc.

It’s experience. It is up to them to decide. I don’t think the info needs to be withheld, it just needs to be disclosed properly.

If a student were to ask me “is my prep insufficient for my major” I would tell them it’s not my decision, but taking the most rigorous schedule you can do well in can only help you.