Rescue Lunches and Parents' Role in the College Admission Process

High school advisor Alice Kleeman joins us this month with a blog post sure to help parents envision their proper role in the college admission process. Cheerleading? Yes. Rescue lunches? No. Read on for more of her clear-eyed view of how parents can be most helpful to their sons and daughters during this time.


On my daily path between office and mail room, I always notice a long line of lunch bags, Sharpie-labeled with students’ names and often sporting the logo of one of the popular local delis. I walk past the lunch-bag display, conquering the urge to snitch a bag and munch on the potato chips therein, lost in thought about college admission once again.


What does the long line of lunch bags on the front counter each day have to do with applying to college? As I pass the festive bag spectacle, I can’t help but imagine an improbable scenario: Mom (or Dad) hopping on a plane to rescue Junior by delivering a forgotten item—granola bars? dental floss?—to the college residence hall!


If there is a task students are capable of tackling on their own in relation to college admission, that task belongs to the student. Why not extend that responsibility to high school "rescue lunches" as well? Students who forget their lunch and know that a parent will dash over to school to drop off that turkey sandwich (no mayo) may never learn that taking their lunch to school (and making that turkey sandwich themselves, for that matter) is their responsibility. Not rescued by a parent? Students may end up sharing some pita and hummus with a friend, buying a slice of pizza at the kiosk, or simply experiencing some hunger pangs by the time they get home. They learn an easy lesson: “In high school, I need to take care of business, and bringing my lunch is part of my job.”  (Obviously, students who would become ill without a lunch pose an exception, but even in that case adults on campus are always ready to jump to the rescue.)


The student whose SAT registration remains uncompleted by the time of the deadline learns a quick lesson: she will have to pay a late charge or wait until the next test comes around.  Students whose parents rush to fill out the SAT registration learn, “If I don’t pay attention to deadlines, no problem—my parents will rescue me.”


As difficult as it may be sometimes to allow students to make their own mistakes, not having a lunch at school or missing an SAT-registration deadline will not have serious consequences.  A far more serious consequence occurs when students learn they do not need to pay attention to such tasks.  Not only do they become dependent on external rescue, they may also come to doubt their capability to handle those tasks themselves—a consequence with a longer-lasting and farther-reaching impact.


As a mom myself, I remember moments when I held my breath wondering if one of my kids would follow through.  Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t.  We all lived through it.  There is a role (a huge one, in fact) for parents in the college-admission process.  Thoughtful and unpressured family discussions, visits to colleges nearby or farther away, and a great deal of cheerleading are among the most important parent roles.


Some of you may view this issue differently—but I am eager for the day when I walk through the main office and see a clear counter, free of lunch bags, and a College & Career Center filled with students tackling their college tasks with confidence.


Alice Kleeman has served as the college advisor for 19 years in the College and Career Center of Menlo- Atherton High School, a public high school of 2,000 students in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also teaches each summer on the faculty of the College Board’s Summer Admission Institute for new admission officers.



Which reminds me -- my lunch is sitting on the counter back home. Mom???????

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