The Crabby Counselor Advocates Parental Report Cards

Crabby has just returned from the National Association for College Admission Counseling conference in St. Louis with an odd idea.

The national association to which Crabby belongs offers a fine opportunity for all his high school, college, and associated professional colleagues to see and socialize with other adults for a few days. Crabby admits to feeling like a large dog released from a small apartment, and he returns from the wilds of St. Louis to Chicago with more than a slight hangover and a dim memory of attending a party at a facility apparently built for those with attention deficit disorder. (He doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun but it did seem that everything there was also something else, made some inappropriate noise, required excessive participation, or propelled one at inconsiderate speeds from one salon to another; one might call it an “Amuseum.”)

He also did business, which means attending presentations, exchanging business cards (it’s like “friending” someone without electronics), and checking out the latest in new goodies in the exhibit hall. Crabby is partial to stuffed college mascots and pens, so he has more than a few of both.

He also came back with an idea that he thinks should be immediately adopted by all high schools and colleges: Add a “parent evaluation” to applications. No, he doesn’t mean an evaluation BY parents, he means one ABOUT parents, written by the counselor. It would provide some context for the applicant as well as a hint at what colleges can expect should they accept the applicant and he or she attends. It would help settle questions about students’ motivations, the amount of involvement parents have in their children’s lives and applications, and perhaps even settle the eternal question of who wrote the essays.

Behold the fermenting brainpower brought about by a leisurely train ride home through the southern Illinois prairie!

To support his point, Crabby presents you with several sample parent evaluations. Confidentiality is key, of course, when you write the real thing, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to peek at some real ones?

Parent Evaluation #1

Although normally unable to occupy the same room as the result of a bitter divorce that included support payments for Mrs. Rayburn’s shi-tzu, Jonathan’s parents were able to come together long enough to completely derail his attempts to forge his own identity as they battled over the college application process. His college choices were routinely disparaged by Mr. Rayburn for being “pie-in-the-sky” liberal arts BS for which he refused to pay; and by Mrs. Rayburn as “not sufficiently high-caliber” for her beloved offspring. Worse for Jonathan, a shy but very talented sort, he had had his heart set on Grinnell or Oberlin, neither of which they had heard of, which instantly discredited them.

During the college research process, the Rayburns delighted in shooting down each other’s choices for Jonathan, while he sat despondently with head in hands. Mrs. Rayburn’s research consisted primarily of finding the most expensive institutions, for which her continually seething ex-husband would be required to pay. His efforts consisted mainly of belittling Jonathan’s chances of getting more than a 22 on his ACTs or a 3.0, rendering him incapable of entry into any but “middling regional colleges.”

Despite this counselor’s best efforts, considering that he is neither a marriage counselor or a WWF referee, the Rayburns were never able to settle on a common list for their son, so one was developed for each parent, with a third “stealth” list put together by Jonathan himself. Leading up to this entente of sorts were phone calls from both parents asking whether the other had been in to see the counselor, and what he or she said, and how he or she had said it, delivered in the manner of a Scud missile honing in on a civilian target. Attempts to placate either served only to increase the toxicity of the relationship among all parties, with Jonathan being the primary casualty.

Should you accept this young man, who has a good heart and a decent soul although you may forgive him for keeping his head down where human interactions are concerned, you will find him a fine addition to your campus. Your academic deans and counseling center, however, may not forgive you for introducing his parents into your idyllic environs. You can expect them to harangue his professors about his grades and to routinely inform you that he could have gone to a better college if only his bastard other parent had managed to be reasonable. You can also expect his father to question every penny you charge him.

We here at St. Francis Academy wish you all the best as you make your decisions and we hope for Jonathan’s sake that you are far enough away from his home to give him some breathing room.

Parent Evaluation #2

When Brianna was deferred EA by Brown, her mother sat in the counselor’s office and cried for an hour, lamenting that she’d probably have to go to Tufts instead. Implicit in her lachrymosity was the idea that her daughter’s being condemned to Tufts was his fault. During the hour Mrs. Doctoral shrank visibly and consumed an entire box of Puffs. The counselor, trying to put her at some ease, made the mistake of pointing out that Brianna had many exceptional colleges on her list that would be happy to have her, and that Tufts was one of those. This comment was interpreted to mean that Brianna was simply one of a million, not one in a million. Attempts at translation and even submission were in vain.

During the entire college application process, Mrs. Doctoral has taken care of everything, from test registrations to filling out transcript requests. Her husband, a prominent, if dissolute, academic at a local university, has not made a single appearance at any meeting or college process event. His wife, however, has done more than enough for both of them, and to see her haggard face and wildly flowing hair after a long night of college research (which she delivered in person to the counselor’s secretary at least once a week) made this counselor feel almost sorry for her. Brianna, in the meantime, has been able to float serenely through her senior year, unaware that she has applied to over twenty colleges. As one of the top students in her class, she will no doubt be an excellent scholar, although whether she follows the academic or dissolute route subsequently has of course yet to be determined.

In accepting Brianna you will have a fine student and a tie to a famous university faculty member, who also has a full-tuition exchange benefit for his children. And he is almost guaranteed not to bother you, since he knows what university life is like. You may, however, have to find something for her mother to do on campus. Playing Lady Macbeth or Lucia de Lammermoor in the late stages of either’s madness might suit her if you haven’t yet solidified your theater season.

Brianna has been a real credit to The Edgely School and we know she will be a credit to you as well.

Parent Evaluation #3

As ignorant as they are rich, Horace Menlace’s parents and step-parents form a scrum of such utter banality that you can feel your own intelligence sucked out of you as you interact with them. Armed with college ranking magazines and only the heaviest college books, they parry each suggestion for their son with, “Yes, but what about Quigley University? The books say it has the best lepidoptery/mechanical engineering combined major. And that’s what Bucket wants to do.”  Forget for a moment why they call their son Bucket, and you’ll see that if these people were playing bridge they’d all be the dummy.

Ah, but that’s too easy a target. Mr. Menlace and his new wife Desiree and the former Mrs. Menlace and her new husband Roberto manage to insult each other just by being friends, and that takes a lot of energy. Nevertheless, they clearly want the best for Bucket, which is of course why they enrolled him at Peebles in the first place. They have been exceptionally free with their money and for this we revere them. You can expect them to be as generous to you as long as Bucket manages to maintain at least a 2.9. In that case, you might want to steer him to your communications major.

Despite this counselor’s vitriol, these couples are quite harmless when separated. And again, they do seem to put Bucket’s well-being first. He’s a genteel cad who makes friends easily and has learned to balance his parents’ affinity for revenge marriages with his own sense of right and wrong. On balance, no harm will come to any campus who accepts him, and you may well benefit from the Menlaces’ largesse.

Parent Evaluation #4

Blessings on the Karpinsky family, who have decided to let their twins Randall and Meredith take the lead in their college process. Mr. and Mrs. Karpinsky arrived at their first parent meeting with notebooks and pens and quizzical looks. After some initial confusion, the counselor realized the equipment was for taking notes, not for delivering pre-ordained requirements for the twins. The rest of the season has so far proceeded smoothly, with Mr. Karpinsky calling periodically to chat and to ask an intelligent question or two about the importance of interviews or how best to apply for scholarships. Apparently, they take the counselor’s advice to heart and seem to appreciate it.

To their credit, the Karpinskys have never treated their children like mirror images of each other. As a result, Randy and Mer are completely individual despite their twin-ness. Randy is considering becoming an oceanographer and Mer a nutritionist. They are known at Rolling Hills High for their modesty and good humor. Clearly they have learned a lot from their parents, who are equally pleasant and supportive.

Describing this family as “normal” ignores the fact that life and society have changed since most of us were children. Regardless, they are the kind of parents any campus would be pleased to welcome to Parents’ Weekend or Commencement. Their children clearly adore them and the feeling is mutual in a totally OK way. We are happy to support the Karpinskys as they usher their children into college life.

And so…

You can probably tell that Crabby has included this last evaluation to show he isn’t totally misanthropic, but it’s not really as fun as the others, is it? Nonetheless, he’s sure you get the idea. It might be helpful to include comments about the parents as a way to complete the context of a student’s application. Crabby solicits your comments and alternative parent evaluations.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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4 Responses to The Crabby Counselor Advocates Parental Report Cards

  1. Karen Ferretti says:

    I just laughed OUTLOUD! Thank you for verbalizing one of the many un-PC things I would love to add to the college process.

    Like

  2. Brilliant! Hilarious and sad!

    Like

  3. George Lynes says:

    The Karpinskys rock! And long live Will Dix’s humor and insight!

    Like

  4. Marta Hanson says:

    Bravo! Praise! You have summed up my last year perfectly, and written the exact reasons why I finally decided on retirement from our profession. The problem is, I now do this all night almost every night in my sleep. Is there no escape? You think you are crabby….

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