Christine VanDeVelde

Christine VanDeVelde is a journalist and writer whose work has appeared in newspapers, including USA Today, the Wall Street JournalNew York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and magazines, including SelfParenting, Home & Design, and Chicago. She writes most frequently on college admission, education, parenting, and children’s literature.

Basically, Christine spends her day doing pretty much what high school students spend their day doing — researching subjects, learning about them, and then writing about those subjects so that other people can understand them.

That’s not as easy as it looks — as any high school student can tell you. In order to write about something, you have to first understand it. And you won’t have any idea how much you don’t understand something until you sit down to write it so someone else can understand it. That’s true whether your subject is the Russian revolutionGossip Girl, the physics of the curve ball, or the Common Application.

When Christine isn’t writing, she likes to hike with friends, hang out with her family, and read. Some of her favorite authors are M.F.K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin, Michael Connelly, Faye Kellerman, Joan Didion, Ellen Gilchrist, Theodore Dreiser, Robert Parker, Beverly Cleary, Margaret Wise Brown and — the list goes on. She is secretly addicted to reality television (just a few shows) and quite public about her love affair with artisanal yogurt, the iPad, and shoes.

A graduate of Boston University, Christine lives in Chicago with her husband. Her daughter is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University and working in her first job in Manhattan. You can read Christine’s essay on her daughter’s college admission process that appeared in I’m Going to College — Not You! (St. Martin’s Press 2010) here.

Q & A

Q : Where were you born?
a : Sterling, Illinois

Q : Where did you go to high school and college?
a : Newman Central Catholic High SchoolBoston University

Q : What is your idea of perfect happiness?
a : My entire family under the same roof

Q : What is your greatest fear?
a : Tina Fey’s response in her own Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair cannot be improved upon: “Child, loss or damage thereof.” This is still true even though my daughter is 21 years old.

Q : Which historical figure do you most identify with?
a : Julia Child, who discovered her passion for writing about food and cooking in middle age and spent the rest of her life pursuing that passion.

Q : Which living person do you most admire?
a : Any person who does their job conscientiously, whatever that job is

Q : What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
a : Fearfulness

Q : What is the trait you most deplore in others?
a : Disloyalty

Q : What is your greatest extravagance?
a : Books

Q : What is your favorite journey?
a : Through a great story

Q : What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
a : Detachment

Q : On what occasion do you lie?
a : To spare the feelings of another

Q : What or who is the greatest love of your life?
a : My husband and daughter

Q : When and where were you happiest?
a : With a book, under a tree, in the summer

Q : Which talent would you most like to have?
a : I would love to be able to sing.

Q : What is your current state of mind?
a : Cautiously optimistic

Q : If you could change one thing about college admission, what would it be?
a : That applying to college is often a status competition, with all that that implies.

Q : Where would you like to live?
a : I'm living there -- Chicago, Illinois

Q : What is your favorite occupation?
a : Writer

Q : What is your most marked characteristic?
a : Steadfastness

Q : What is the quality you most admire in another person?
a : An incisive mind

Q : What do you most value in your friends?
a : Their efforts to stay in touch — we are all too busy.

Q : Who are your favorite writers?
a : Too numerous to include. Top five: M.F.K. Fisher,Tom WolfeRuth ReichlSuzanne CollinsEllen Gilchrist.

Q : Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
a : Can’t have just one: Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet The Spy” WelschRoald Dahl’s Matilda Wormwood, and Ayn Rand’s Dagny Taggart.

Q : Who are your heroes in real life?
a : Every one of the truly great, gifted teachers I have had the pleasure to know in my own and my daughter’s schooling.

Q : What is it that you most dislike?
a : Arrogance

Q : What is your motto?
a : When people show you who they are, believe them. Maya Angelou

Q : What do you consider your greatest achievement?
a : Parenting my daughter

Q : If you were to die and could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
a : Myself. I like my life.

Q : Why do you do what you do?
a : Because I love hearing other people’s stories and learning about things.

Q : What is the biggest mistake you see students making in applying to college?
a : Aside from playing the status game, failing to find out enough about the academic life of a school — what actually goes on in the classrooms.

Q : What is your biggest pet peeve about college admission?
a : The pervasive atmosphere of rumor and scare tactics from the media and other parents

Q : When you think of deans of admission you admire, without naming any names, what are the qualities you admire in them?
a : Humility, a sincere interest in the future success of young people, and a belief in the power of education

Q : What is your best advice for applicants?
a : Get excited about this next step in your life. It’s a blast — academically, socially, and intellectually.

Q : What will you — or did you — tell your children as they apply to college?
a : That she couldn’t go wrong — whatever she decided would be fine with her father and me.

Q : Did your daughter share her essays with you?
a : After she hit Send.

Q : What is your best advice for parents of applicants?
a : Don’t underestimate how much work and pressure applying to college creates for your child.

Q : If you were going to college again, where would you go?
a : Gosh, too many great places to choose from. I would apply to University of VirginiaColumbia (again),University of IowaNorthwestern (again), Boston University (again), and Middlebury College — all schools with good writing programs.

Q : If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
a : Editor of Vogue.