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Me, Myself, as Mommy: College preparation process is no joke these days

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 14, 2023

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Meg Sanders

Being the youngest child, I never really got a chance to be a guinea pig. With two older sisters and an older brother, they got to do everything first. They broke in the old parents before I got a chance to put them through the wringer. Even my brother beat me to it when he got busted by the cops, although St. George police realized they’d made a mistake and let him go, whereas I got to test out our legal system. That’s a story for another day. My big sister went to college first, got married first, had kids first, and now she’s hitting the milestone of sending her offspring to college four years before I follow in her footsteps. Watching her and my nephew, Hudson, navigate this journey makes me grateful he gets to be the guinea pig this time.

When I headed off to college 20 years ago, it was based on an inconsequential decision, as if I was selecting a pack of socks. Most of my peers had an ideal college selected, a direction in their course of study and paperwork filled out in hopes they could pay for tuition — it wasn’t simple. My boyfriend (now husband) spent countless hours researching where he was going to school. I remember he and his mother pouring over pamphlets or battling their free dial-up internet to read about different campuses. Since eighth grade, he wanted to be an engineer, so he also outlined what math and science classes he needed to take in high school before he even applied to Utah State University, knowing those choices would affect his timeline of graduation. Me? I heard my best friends were going to Snow College, so I shrugged and applied the literal day applications were due. I had no idea how I was going to pay for it despite my parents being very clear they were going to only pay half. Let’s just say I fell a little short after having to pay a handsome fine to the Hurricane Police Department. See previous statement of “a story for another day.”

The process is far more intense than it was decades ago. Being accepted into a school, let alone scoring a scholarship, is far more competitive. Parents are so desperate they’re filming their kid floating in a Lifetime kayak on the local pool, claiming he’s on the rowing team. SAT scores saturated conversations as if it were life and death when I was growing up. Movies revolved around students trying to cheat by stealing the answers to standardized tests. Now SATs are less important with many universities no longer requiring any score. Ivy League school Columbia University has a test-optional policy in place, meaning they don’t consider standardized test scores. In the next year, these tests will be completely digital, ridding the world of that absurd pressure to have your No. 2 pencil precisely sharpened and your bubbles cautiously filled in.

Since my sister was the guinea pig for me, it makes sense her oldest child would be the next lineage of experimental rodent. Hudson has been preparing for college for years. He was guided through via International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. These rigorous courses prepare a student for the critical thinking required in college. Ogden High and Weber High offer IB classes and it’s competitive to be accepted. My nephew took essay writing courses knowing he’d have to submit several with each application. These essays have the same goal as a pushup bra and tight pants — did it make the student desirable? Hudson is not the only one doing the work; my sister attends classes on the whole process of applications, how to make her kid stand out in a sea of kids and calculate the best ways to pay for the biggest expenditure of her life.

Institutions of higher learning are seeing more and more applications each year because the diversity of those attending college is increasing. Just 70 years ago, fewer than 4% of women got a four-year degree; now that’s up to 40%. I would love to see the statistics now that college is more attainable to minority groups compared to decades ago. Universities also say applications are on the rise due to students applying to more schools in hopes of spreading out their chances of getting into a school they actually want to attend. Last week, I spoke with an academic advisor from Weber State University who told me there’s an increase of older, nontraditional students enrolling. People from all backgrounds, ages, races and economic levels can see themselves earning that degree, a definitive double-edge sword. Now more than ever, people need to have that degree to compete in the modern workforce.

My daughter is still years away from officially applying for school, but that doesn’t mean the process hasn’t started. Already, she’s signing up for the extra curriculars to make her application shine, she’s neurotic over her grades and listens intently during Career Day at the junior high. She’s studied “Gilmore Girls” and believes Yale is the place for her. Soon enough, I’ll burst that bubble to let her know a state school is just right. Like her father, she is driven. She isn’t one to shrug about her future; she’s a planner.

Here’s the thing — I shrugged. I did a year at Snow, transferred to Weber State, had an absolute ball, got a job at Utah’s leading news station and scored an awesome writing gig for this important local paper. I worked with folks from Northwestern, Brown and George Washington; all were brilliant and took the job as seriously as I did. While the school can be important, the person is what makes it count. My husband was an Aggie; now he tests rocket motors and boosters. He works with innovative engineers and scientists from Hill Air Force Base, NASA and the Department of Defense. As kids go to whichever school they ultimately get accepted to, that’s when the real pressure will start. They will have to make something of themselves, whether it be at Harvard or if they bleed purple. As my big sister was a guinea pig for me and Hudson a guinea pig for Scarlett, so it will be as she’s the guinea pig for her little brothers. I come from a long line of guinea pigs. Thank goodness I was a Wildcat.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.

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