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By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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Congratulations To Grads (Parents, Please Step To The Back)

Uploaded: May 27, 2014
This blog was written by John and is his first blog post!

It's that time of year again when Palo Alto parents of high school graduates congratulate each other on where their children are going to college.

My suggestion is, when you run into an old friend at Town and Country and she says, "Congratulations, I hear your son is going to Stanford," the ideal response is not, "Thank you," but rather, "I had nothing to do with it, I'll pass your congratulations on to him."

Even though it may seem like you applied to college given all the support, nudging, cajoling, check writing and credit card swiping you did to make sure he got though high school and got his application done on time, he really did it on his own. He got the A's, he took the SAT's, he even managed to be introspective enough to come up with a couple of great essay topics.

Maybe the new greeting should be, "I hear your son is going to Stanford, he must be a great kid, congratulations for not messing it up!"

And by the way, any student who makes it through two of the toughest high schools in the country should be congratulated, regardless of what they're doing after high school. Where you got into college is not a predictor of future success, which is why 10 year high school reunions are so, shall we say, interesting.

So just how involved should parents be in their child's search for a college? The book all students should give their parents is,"I'm Going to College, Not You!" by Jennifer Delahunty.

There are several views on a parent's role. Here is mine:
1. Before the process starts tell your student exactly how much cash you will contribute and how many dollars in loans you are willing to take out. It is sad when a student gets into her favorite college and finds out she can't go.
2. Know your kid. If your son has severe executive function issues, he is not automatically going to get organized because, "college is important." He needs you to keep him on track. If your daughter is independent and has gotten through high school on her own, she might only need your credit card. Although clearly a recessive gene trait in my family, lots of kids figure the whole thing out on their own and the parents find out where they are going when they start wearing the school's sweat shirt.
3. Plan family trips to visit colleges.
4. Do a great job on the brag sheet. Paly and Gunn ask parents to write an essay about their child that they will use to write the counselor's recommendation. Spend as much time on this as you expect your child to spend on his essay.
5. Know the odds. Encourage your child to reach for the stars, but to be firmly planted on the ground. 90 percent of this year's Paly and Gunn grads are not going Ivy League, MIT, Stanford or Berkeley even though at times it seems everyone is. If you're a parent and back in the day earned a degree from an elite school, there's a good chance you wouldn't get in there today. Admission rates are lower than interest rates, and world-wide competition has sky-rocketed at these schools. A former Pomona dean calls admissions at elite schools basically a crap shoot. As recently as 1990, Stanford had 12,954 applicants, in 2013 Stanford had 38,828 applicants. In 1976, Yale had a 26.4% admit rate. In 2013, it was 6.9%. These numbers might shed some light on the long held family question of how in the heck did Uncle Joe get into Dartmouth back in the day.

Well, that's it for the inaugural blog. Please comment below and let us know what worked for your family. We welcome your admission questions and if we don't have the answer , we'll check in with our colleagues from around the country to get you the latest thinking. You can email us at
Local Journalism.
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Posted by Mother of 4 , a resident of Palo Verde School,
on May 28, 2014 at 8:46 am

Great idea for a blog. I look forward to reading it. Thanks.

Posted by baron park, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 29, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Nice job. This is a thoughtful reminder to all of us.

And my thanks to John, who helped one of our boys sort out where, how, and why he was going to apply to college (John: He has been doing great at UCSD. And he is now starting to study for the GRE).

Posted by Wendy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on May 30, 2014 at 6:57 am

As this blog appears in The Almanac, will you also speak to Menlo Atherton high school issues relating to college readiness? M A is a different school than Gunn and Paly.....

Posted by MissManners, a resident of another community,
on May 30, 2014 at 10:52 am

I appreciate the advice and thank you for sharing your wisdom. Please be understanding to well wishers that you run into at the market. People are only trying to express their happiness for your family. I think your first response was more polite. The "passing on" response seems to subtly criticize the well wisher's choice of words.

Posted by After you do the following, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 30, 2014 at 6:07 pm

John and Lori,

It will be interesting to hear what experts are saying about this and the other, but I take a very different view of the good intentions of the industry.

We (parents) are obviously not going to college, and while learning is fun, most of us are happy to stay behind.

Experts are funny though, the college advice industry has been created around this subject of "who is going to college", and the the rage is advice about how involved parents should not be, with titles like "I'm Going to College, Not You!" by Jennifer Delahunty.

Shouldn't the industry experts also step back? What's left after what the kids do themselves and

paying for college and managing expectations.
figuring out our kid enough to know how much to help or not
visit colleges (that's no small feat)
writing a brag sheet where we have to recall everything to brag about
knowing our own kid's odds and managing those expectations.

These are deeply personal categories, and any one of them can be as attractive to handle as getting a tooth pulled.

To get etiquette lessons about how to receive a Congratulations after all this is strange.

Absolutely every parent should be congratulated, and they should get credit. They celebrate the As with their kids, and helped them recover from setbacks academic or otherwise. They had to handle the 1-5 list as gracefully as possible. Their kids will be the first to thank their parents.

As recent graduate Jose Torres started his speech at Paly graduation, "we stand on the shoulders of giants." The rest brought the house down. It was an honor to his parents.

I would say experts are creating a very unnecessary dynamic perhaps to promote their own industry.

Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 5:12 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

Thanks everyone for the views and the comments. We?ve taken your suggestions to heart and will keep them in mind as we move forward. Apologies to our Menlo Park and Mountain View friends, we didn?t realize we were on the Almanac and Voice websites! Please keep reading and commenting. We?re here as a resource to get good discussions started on how different members of the community think about college.-John

Posted by Vini, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jun 2, 2014 at 11:31 am

After you do the following:

I echo your feelings. While the parents are staying behind it does take the whole familys' conscious effort (if not the village) to have a successful graduate from high school wanting to pursue higher education. Kudos to all the parents as well- so if you run into a friend at Trader Joe's or Safeway , do proudly proclaim that the whole family worked hard to see that my child did fine and made all of us Proud!

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