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The College Conversation: Student need to shine on their own

October 09, 2010|By Lisa McLaughlin

My 5-year-old came home last week with her first kindergarten assignment: "Personalize a shoe box."

She was ecstatic. Felt like such a big girl.

On Monday, she found the box and stuck white paper all over it. On Tuesday, she painted it blue. On Wednesday, she added an obscene amount of glitter glue and suddenly realized that the inside of the box looked like it was covered in sand.

Thursday brought schools of bright fish and her choice to cut out the fish she previously drew into her works of art.

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At one point, she started crying because her mixture of blue-and-white paint didn't come out quite the shade of blue she'd envisioned. She stomped into her bedroom, bawling her head off in her bed.

She eventually came back out and fixed it, adding purple seaweed, a killer shark, an octopus and a squid. She showed it to daddy and was so proud of her work.

To be honest, there were times when I wanted to jump in and give my 2 cents. Seaweed isn't really purple and fish don't live on the beach. Adding a little green paint into the mixture would've perfected the blue she was after. But I held back, jumping in only when the entire glitter container spilled all over the floor.

Fast forward to my next day at work.

I sat down to read a college essay draft from one of my students who is having a particularly tough time writing his personal statement. I stopped after the first paragraph. It was obvious to me that I was reading an essay written by a 45-year-old man likely to be the student's father.

The writing was sophisticated and eloquent. Maturity oozed from the essay. I couldn't imagine those words coming out of the student's mouth.

While I realize the stakes are a lot higher in college admission essays than they are on a kindergarten school project, what message does a parent send to the child if he takes over the child's work?

Is the message that the child is capable? Talented? Bright? Creative?

Or does the act of taking over send the message that this it too important for you to mess up and my way is better?

While difficult, the college application process is another step toward letting go of your kid. He's the one looking to get admitted. And he's the one going to college.

My daughter's project was her deal. The application process is your kid's deal.

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