When the dream becomes reality

<p>As a parent whose oldest child will be starting college next year, I have been extremely interested in the multiple threads over the past few weeks dealing with kids who were extremely unhappy within days, or even hours of arrival at school for their freshman years. Many of the kids involved seemed to have made well researched, well thought out college lists, yet were desparately unhappy. Now I know kids have had homesickness, buyer's remorse and/or disappointment at being rejected for years, but it seems to be more prevalent than it used to be. And I'm wondering whether that is, in part, the result of a society which has turned college admissions into an all consuming race to see who can get into their "dream" or "perfect fit" school, and the consequent fostering of a belief that getting into a certain school will produce utopia, while rejection from that school equates to failure. </p>

<p>The problem is that kids will be disappointed no matter which result occurs. No school, job, relationship, or anything else in life is utopian--all come with unanticipated warts and rocky spots along the road. If you think you've "made it" because you've gotten into school x, as many kids seem to believe, then the reality that you've just started the journey, and there are going to be some detours is likely to produce angst. Similarly, if it's deemed all important to get into school x and you've been rejected, feelings of worthlessness are understandable. Add to that the fact that we're dealing with teenagers (unpredictable and inconsistent) away from home and/or supervision for the first time, and the potential for disaster is there.</p>

<p>Please understand that I'm NOT commenting on any of the specific cases described previously in this forum--I simply don't know enough to judge whether any of them had anything to do with the phenomenon I've observed. I've seen it where I live though (suburban Chicago), and have heard about it from friends in other parts of the country. I'm also NOT trying to differentiate myself from others who are very concerned about the college selection and admission process--we identified schools which met her criteria and were strong in her intended area when she was a sophmore, and visited some of these schools quite early. I'm just trying to find out whether others have the same concerns that I do.</p>


<p>It might just seem more prevalent because everybody has the internet now to whine on. I remember being horribly disappointed in my college choice in 1975! I still wish my parents had turned right around and brought me home! Ha.</p>

<p>I also think there is a lot of validity to the rest of your thoughts too. (Especially re: "Dream School" nonsense.)</p>

<p>Premature, unfounded anxiety.</p>

<p>Dadtimesthree, definitely. With all the build up it is not surprising that some of these kids are finding that the reality doesn't live up to the dream. I have told my kids repeatedly the story of my high school prom. The girls went to the ladies room. When we returned the guys were playing poker! Definitely not what we were thinking it would be like when we spent all that money on dresses and time on makeup. Now take that example and remember that today's teenagers get their hair and makeup professionally done, ride to that prom in a limo, spend a lot of money on the dress, etc.<br>
To me, this is a bit of an analogy for the experience you are describing. For a student's point of view, look at the post "College is the best time of your life?" or something close to that (can't remember exactly). The whole thing has been blown up to epic proportions for these kids.</p>

<p>I don't know that the percentages of students who end up transfering has actually changed much through the years. I wish I'd known more about the college choosing process and how to find the best fit when i was looking for colleges. I spent two miserable years at the wrong school for me.</p>

<p>And somehow I managed to watch my D make a mistake, too. Both of us were miserable at our first schools, both very happy after transfering. So I don't think it was a matter of unrealistic expectations--we were just both at the wrong school. If anything, both of us were disappointed not from trying to get into dream schools but because of settling for schools that were not challenging, the wrong social fit, etc. Dreaming bigger was what made the difference for both of us.</p>

<p>I am not advocating for "dream schools" but I am advocating for having a really, really good idea of what is best for you.</p>

<p>I somewhat liken deciding which college to attend to choosing the right husband/wife. You think you have done all the research, you've looked at all the pros and cons, BUT the advance tours are all geared toward showing you the great things, not the hidden underbelly. Then when you are actually living there, or with the new spouse, you see all the things that were not apparent during your rose colored glasses phase. Now it is up to you to decide to compromise and learn to live with the things that are not perfect or bail. You really don't know what you are getting into until you take the plunge! When it works out, it is fabulous, when it doesn't, it is obviously disappointing.</p>

<p>I knew kids who left college within days back in 1972 and others who transferred within a year from their carefully picked colleges to our generic state university (on the grounds that "if I'm going to be miserable, I may as well do it cheaply"). I don't think it's a new phenomenon.</p>


<p>Please elaborate on your spouse's "hidden underbelly" :)</p>

<p>"Dreaming about schools' seems so darn narrow. Dream about making billions, or curing AIDS, or ending homelessness, or scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl, or being crowned Miss America - these I can understand. But "dreaming about schools"? (The only dreams I've ever had about schools have been bad ones.) How utterly....(I better not. ;))</p>

<p>I am much more aware of kids being miserable when they get to college now than I was when I was a kid. I attribute big parts of that to two things: (1) a lot more communication -- if you're talking on the cell phone and e-mailing several times a day, there's a lot more unprocessed venting, and (2) most teenagers today have a lot less autonomy than my friends and I had, and they often have very little experience being away from their parents for any extended period of time. I, and most of my friends, had spent weeks or months away from home more than once; that seems comparatively rare now. Also, many kids haven't had anything like a roommate experience before, even with siblings.</p>

<p>Did any of you see the TV pieces about "post-wedding depression?" Apparently, some brides get so caught up in planning their "perfect day" that everything that comes later, including marriage, is a let down.</p>


<p>Could students be so focused on The Search and The Perfect School that anything short of perfection and bliss is a terrible disappointment?</p>

<p>I remember telling our son that anyone who told him that these are the best years of his life was either suffering from a memory disorder or was lying! These can be good years, of course, but the best is yet to come, and it will be of his own making.</p>

<p>Mini -- that's not fair. Dreaming about schools doesn't replace dreaming about other things, too. My best friend used to go on and on about how when we got to college all the girls were going to want to have sex, and how someday he was going to sail around the world. Well, when we got to college he was initially very disappointed, because (big surprise!) the girls were a lot like the girls we already knew, just a little smarter. Eventually, they did all want to have sex, but it took a few years. And he's been sailing around the world for three years, now, with his wife and children (but with very little sex -- it's an awfully small cabin, and when they are sailing one or the other adult has to be on watch at all times).</p>

<p>He he, m&sdad I think my poor spouse would be upset if I talked about his belly. :) I was one who compromised and stuck it out through the first few years of him leaving his dirty clothes on the bathroom floor and empty soda cans on the counter. We now have been together for 21 wonderful years! I also stuck it out in college, not everything looked like the brochures, but after I got used to the place, I ended up enjoying my 4 years. Some aren't so lucky (either with their college choice or spouse)!</p>

<p>"Mini -- that's not fair. Dreaming about schools doesn't replace dreaming about other things, too."</p>

<p>All right. Dreaming about schools is probably more worthwhile than dreaming about four-slice toasters....But not by much.</p>

<p>(I've never had a bad dream about a four-slice toaster, though I still have memories of my flying toaster screensaver - now that dates me....)</p>

<p>We should also keep in mind the fact that many kids who, a generation ago, would not have gone to college, now do. Meds (for everything from anxiety to asthma) have made a huge difference in some populations, and these kids are often fragile.</p>

<p>I think there may be something to it. We felt lucky if we got to go away to a four year school AT ALL--living at home and going to jr. college then transferring to the big commuter school was the norm in my community. To us, going 100 miles away to the state U. was hitting the jackpot; anything beyond that was unheard of. Maybe one kid every few years went to a residential liberal arts school--it just wasn't done in rural Oregon in the '70s. Nobody had the money.</p>

<p>Once we got there, kids flaked out, flunked out, left, transferred. The dorms looked very different at the beginning of second quarter than they did at the beginning of the academic year! </p>

<p>ANother thing that may be different: Kids are in such close touch with their parents now. We rarely called home; it was expensive, and you had to either call collect on the hall phone or have your parents call you in somebody's room (a few people had phones in their rooms, but again, expensive)</p>

<p>I think some of the disappointment has to do with the raised expectations resulthing for the intense admissions process and the desire to achieve the impossible perfect "fit".</p>

<p>It was totally different for me in my day. As a first generation college attendee in my family I applied to three universities sight unseen. And with no internet and minimal marketing, I chose Ohio State based on the 600+ page college catalogue they sent me with my acceptance; a catalogue which had less than 10 photographs. But what a marvel that cataloge seemed to me. I studied my engineering major curriculum until I had my five years of courses charted out in my mind. And the thousands of course descriptions sent my mind soaring.</p>

<p>I was so excited to begin that by the time I stepped onto the campus that first day of orientation even the McCracken Power Plant seem glorious to me. I was just so grateful to be privledged to be invited into the OSU Class of 1969 little else mattered. A good room mate assignment was icing on the cake!</p>

<p>I find little of this attitude of gratitude in many of today's students and ill equipped to accept the inevitible disappointments along the way. I do not know if it is because of an overindulgent childhood, over involved parenting, the rise of the self-esteem thinking so a not to bruise little Johnnie's fragile ego, or a myriad of other factors.</p>

<p>Often dreams are illusions of our own creation. Clearly this happens with kids and colleges. College selections are often made based on limited data - short descriptions and 2 hour tours of the facilities. To make a wise choice it is important to spend some time and find out details about the campus academics and culture. It is probably also a good idea for kids to do a short summer program preferably living on a college campus.</p>

<p>Recently there was a thread about a freshman who was able to transfer within a few days of starting. She found that she could not tolerate the intense drinking and animal house behavior. These things should not come as a surprise. It does not take very long to find out about the drinking behaviors at various schools. There is another thread about a student trying to select some very diverse schools. I asked about the criteria being used. Apparently, the selections are being based on "feel" even though the schools are very different. Another college freshman could end up with some unpleasant surprises.</p>

<p>"Often dreams are illusions of our own creation."</p>

<p>I don't remember "dreaming", but I do remember looking for the "right school", and truly believed I had gotten into the right one. (#1!) My roommates were a genial relatively anti-Semitic and racist gentleperson from a southern prep school (who bemoaned the fact that he wasn't at Princeton) and a hard-driving lacrosse player (I had never seen a net attached to a broomstick before.) My campus job was wearing a white coat and serving them food as they sat down to their jacket-and-tie dinners four nights a week. (That lasted all of six weeks.) Mountains were different from city pavements. All the prep school kids knew how to write with facility (even if many of them didn't have much to say), and it took me about a year to catch up.</p>

<p>It wasn't "a perfect fit", and I may have learned more because it wasn't. I learned heaps - from my mismatched roommates, wonderful faculty, and mountains - and am grateful to this day. (Oh, today, I probably would have transferred, but I didn't even know enough in those days to consider the possibility, and was in such a fog that it was hard enough to keep my nose to the grindstone without considering the world of possibilities out there. And, indeed, it was the mismatched college that enabled me to eventually consider that big, wonderful world out there - and for which I am forever thankful.)</p>

<p>The funny thing, Mini, is you didn't know about transfering, and I didn't know about Williams, or schools like it, or how to get into a school like that. You can take everything you didn't like about Williams, and throw in an anti-intellectual culture of major proportions, and you'd have where I went. The first I learned about transfering, or Williams, was from two of the classmates I was closest to, both of whom transfered there after the first year. It took me a year longer how to get out of there, but it was worth making the change. Learning through misery may be character-forming, but it's not fun.</p>