Parents Anxious to Start Early on Getting Kids into Elite Universities

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Now that the college application season has started for motivated high school seniors, the stressful process looms over their heads like a dark cloud. While completing their senior year, they must also fill out the dreaded college applications with embellished personal statements, inflated GPAs and countless volunteer hours worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although visiting college campuses, submitting college applications and attending classes can be a drag for someone more interested in the boy band One Direction or the new Xbox One video game console, nothing can top suburban parents who invest tens of thousands of dollars in their children’s K-12 education to make sure that little Brad or Tiffany gets accepted into UCLA, UC Berkeley or Stanford.

As many anxious parents are well aware, applying to an elite university does not begin in high school. For instance, not only did Mom listen to Mozart’s greatest hits during her pregnancy and read nighttime stories to her newborn, she also ensured that Dad got his lazy butt off the couch and tearfully missed Monday Night Footfall to work extra hours, like Mom, for that needed promotion in order to live in the right neighborhood with the best schools.

Before making sure that the local elementary school is a feeder school to the best junior high school and, subsequently, best college-prep high school, leading up to an elite university, Mom and Dad first had to get their precious offspring into the top preschool program in their area. If they don’t start early in the game, they worry that instead of Yale, their “gifted” child may end up in jail.

From Leapfrog learning toys to educational trips to Costa Rica’s rainforest, from piano lessons to violin recitals, from private tutors to expensive test prep courses, there’s no limit to what some privileged parents do to get their children into one of U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked universities.

I’m glad to not be caught up in all this hoopla about getting my son into an elite university. While my wife Antonia and I managed to get him into a wonderful elementary school, we didn’t drive around town with a pretentious bumper sticker: “My Son is an Honor Student at X Elementary School.” (Actually, when I checked, they ran out of stickers.)

Recently, however, after completing my Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, I became extremely anxious over which top university would best benefit my son to ensure success in life. So, after requesting several informational brochures from several universities, I also requested one from Caltech in Pasadena, California.

When my wife saw it, she said jokingly: “Don’t you already have a doctorate. Not satisfied with one?”

“I’m fine with one,” I uttered.

“So why did you ask for a brochure from Caltech?” she asked with a puzzled look.

“Oh, … that’s not for me. It’s for our son,” I responded.

“But he’s only in pre-school,” she said, looking even more puzzled.

“Precisely,” I exclaimed. “It’s never too early to start the college application process.”

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