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MIT staff blogger Bryan G. Nance

A Post For Parents, Part 1 by Bryan G. Nance

The next entry is for the kids...

Applicants, if you’re reading this, I hope that MIT is one of the schools that sent you a “fat packet”. Regardless of where you were admitted, however, you have some serious decisions ahead of you in the coming weeks.

I am giving you a hall pass for this blog entry. This entry is for the people you call Mom and Dad. (I’m sure that you call them other things when they are not looking, but that’s another entry). So call mom and/or dad to the computer, bring up this page and walk away. WAIT, WAIT! DON’T GO TOO FAR! They may get freaked out if your IM pops up and your best friend begins to talk about the party that you were not supposed to go to. Disable your IM and then walk away.


Welcome to the Nance Effect! For the last six months I’ve spent time in cyberspace talking to your offspring about the College Process. I must say that they have handed themselves with extraordinary grace, intelligence, maturity and savvy. Even though they won’t clean their rooms, stay up too late and drink way too much coffee, you should be proud of them. (Let’s keep this between us. As it is you need a shoe horn to get their heads through the door)

This entry has been on my mind since this time last year. My college roommate called for advice because his oldest daughter was going though the application process. When I got off the phone I was struck by how little he knew about the process. This really bothered me because I’ve known him for 20+ years and he’s one of the sharpest people that I know. Finally, it dawned on me this is not the same process that it was just 15 years ago. There is more pressure and information that seniors must endure. We never had to sift endlessly through web sites or spend our summers studying for exams and/or stuffed on a bus or the back seat of the car on the never-ending campus visits.

I know that this process is equally stressful for you. In less than 6 months your child will go off to college. Complicating matters is the fact that you have to help guide a hormonally driven young person through arguably the biggest decision of his or her life. As a wise man once said, “I feel your pain.” Or as my grandfather was fond of mumbling to his 13 grandkids, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

In this post I hope to give you a few pointers that will help you and your child flourish together as you sift through the college decision process.

General Points:

  • No matter what they say, they listen to you and take their lead from your reaction. Remember this when they come home excited about being admitted to Existentialists University. The frown on your face may be related to some completely unrelated thought. To your child, it’s a frown of disapproval.
  • It’s all about them. Always. For example, if you called to say that your brand new Mercedes was just stolen from the mall parking lot, don’t be surprised if the 2nd question is “How am I supposed to get to the Prom” (Of course the first question is are you alright? It may be all about them but they still love you). THIS IS THE LENS THROUGH WHICH THEY SEE THE WORLD AND THIS PROCESS.
  • This process is overwhelming! They are being asked to make the biggest decision of their lives with 4-6 weeks of deliberations. If you attended college, the process has changed drastically since you applied. If you have not attended college, not to worry, the process is just as foreign for the college-educated parent as it is for you.
  • The only way for your children to make this decision is to think their way out. Be there as a source to ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions that are designed to spur internal dialog. This is where life experiences come in handy. Draw upon your life’s journey for inspiration.
  • As such, very few teenagers have the expertise to separate the message from the messenger. The moment that you lock into ‘decision making mode’ for him or her is the moment that you have made you voice irrelevant.
  • Do not take advice from family or friends about this process. Would you let you uncle fix the brakes on your car; or let your uncle do your taxes; or let your aunt give you a perm and a trim? The same principle applies to choosing a college. Just before accepting this position at MIT, I had a close family friend pull me aside and tell me not to go to Boston. When I asked why, he reminded me of the issues surrounding court-ordered busing in the 1970’s. When I pressed him to be specific and about MIT, he complained about the time his car broke down on Mass Ave and how no one stopped to help him. Tragic for him, but not a reason for me not to choose MIT.

I think that I’ve given you enough to ponder for now. If you take just one thing away from this piece let it be the following: Deciding on the right college is as much about the process (journey) as it is the outcome. Try as you might, it is impossible to account for all variables or know all the facts. It is only through diligence and hard work associated with the process that you and your children will acquire the tools necessary to arrive at a proper outcome. Please allow your children to learn and grow from this process. Let them tap into their inner voice and embrace that which separates the children from adults: Well Reasoned Decision Making.

The second part of this post will come next week. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts.

17 responses to “A Post For Parents, Part 1”

  1. Oakland Mom says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments to parents. My son was admitted early and I’ve struggled over the past few months with how to help him make his own decision and not to sway him with dreams that are mine and not necessarily his. Its such a tough one. And thank you, as well for helping us make the trip back for CPW. No matter what his decision is, I’ll be confident that he’s at least stopped to consider all the amazing options he has before him at this point and not just leapt towards the first school that offered him a place in their class of 2010. Looking forward to meeting you and the rest of the admissions staff at CPW. At last I’ll have the opportunity to say thank you in person!

  2. Thanks, Mr. Nance.

    We enjoyed seeing you in Ann Arbor last year. And I’ve enjoyed, vicariously, your growing family. I’ve also very much appreciated the open atmosphere of the MIT admission process.

    I hope that, after tomorrow, we have a chance to meet. I also hope that, should our student be admitted, the dollars work out such that his attendance is possible.

    Your words are wise and on target.

    Now the trick for you is: try to remember them 15 to 17 years from now!

    All the best,

  3. Mike's Mom says:

    Thanks Nance!

    I’m still laughing about “50 Things Not To Do If You Want To Get Into MIT”. I wish I knew how to include a link here, but I’m not technically capable.

    I’ve really appreciated your wonderful sense of humor through this whole process. You’re right, these kids really do have their work cut out for them. Even if I had the ‘power’ to steer my son in a certain direction, I wouldn’t know which way to go!! So many wonderful opportunities, so little financial aid…

    Mike’s Mom

  4. Hi Nance,

    Thanks for the good work. I think I’m more excited than my S come noon today. Or he is better at concealing it. But life does go on, and your piece will no doubt guide us to remain on the right track.

  5. Hi Nance,

    Thanks for the good work. I think I’m more excited than my S come noon today. Or he is better at concealing it. But life does go on, and your piece will no doubt guide us to remain on the right track.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you
    I don’t know what an IM is but I really have lived with the messy room.
    Just wanted to let you know I cried tears which I have not done in a long time when I read the parent post. Maybe I am tired from working the 2 jobs in case my daughter does get into MIT.
    I just hope for her sake I can be cool about the decision Tommorrow @ 9am

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you
    I don’t know what an IM is but I really have lived with the messy room.
    Just wanted to let you know I cried tears which I have not done in a long time when I read the parent post. Maybe I am tired from working the 2 jobs in case my daughter does get into MIT.
    I just hope for her sake I can be cool about the decision Tommorrow @ 9am

  8. Oakland Mom,

    I’m sure that you will cotinue to help you son make sage decisions. He could have never gotten this far without your help.

  9. Mike’s Mom,

    Don’t lose sleep over financial aid until you see the package. By empowering your son you have far more power that you know.

  10. AnotherMom says:

    Thanks for your comments and perspective.The process has changed tremendously from almost 30 years ago! The blogs have been a great help duriing this process. I feel it made the applicants feel that they were not just a number in the eyes of the admissions office.

    The applicant in our household sat there in shock as she looked at the decision screen. We look forward to CPW.

  11. Omar's mom says:

    I am so annoying of knowing that Omar did it!!! He has worked all these years preparing him to get into MIT. Being admitted into MIT was his dream since 8th grade, his passion and all his efforts went toward it. So, today I only see the crop of what he seeds, (alone and without resources). Thanks Angela, MIT student admitted last year, that gave him hope and encourage that he will be in MIT this year. I am very proud of my son and now I

  12. Omar's mom says:

    Thanks to all the selection staff!!!

  13. Omar's mom says:

    Thanks to all the admission staff!!! Sorry, I was so happy, I forget whom made that possible for him.

  14. Wise parenting words, and thanks for them, Nance.

    As the parent of an MIT Class of ’09 student, I was last year in the shoes of many of you here. These final six weeks of decision may be difficult for your children in ways you hadn’t expected: I learned some new insights about my son as I watched him do the inner searching that led to the next step into his future. Although he was my first to leave the house, and I knew there would be an adjustment and some tears as he moved forward, I did not anticipate one truth. As good parents, we spend ~18 years guiding and preparing our children for this step into their lives… but we spend almost no time preparing *ourselves* for it. This process is one of watching our children launch themselves, but the hole shaped like my son took a surprising number of months to fill. Oh, look at that! A little tear just crept out of the corner of my eye as I remember last summer… but I am smiling too! He is working so hard, but doing so well at becoming the man he is to be. I am proud and happy for him.

    But I also know that I was not ready, even as a knowledgeable and strong parent, for the change in my life as he moved on to begin his own. Love your kids, and be good to yourselves, too: you’ve done a great job as a parent so far, and remember that they don’t stop needing you just because they move on to college! Congratulations, everyone, regardless of where your children end up for college.

    (PS: I’d be happy to converse or exchange experiences, feel free to contact me if I can be helpful. I’m an MIT Parent Connector, too.)

  15. Amy says:

    Bryan: Thank you for the opportunity for parents. Actually, my son and I just posted something on Matt McGann’s blog not realizing we could do so here. This one’s just from me.

    Diversity. At the information session here in NYC you specifically mentioned the ‘under-represented’ minorities at MIT. Does MIT go out and recruit students based on color or race? Does MIT have minority quotas? If so, do you fill them during the early decision process, regular decision process or just however you can? Thanks.

  16. Amy,

    Good question! We recruit the best of the best regardless of race. This does mean that we recruit students in ways that resonate with them as individuals, but we stand clear of anything that resembles a quota.

    I am very proud that MIT is an Affirmaive Action School but again we look for the students that have the “Right Stuff”.

    We look to actively recrute under-represented minorities (URM’S) at every level of the process..Early Action and Regular Decision.

    Typically URM’s tend to apply in greater numbers during Regular Decision. As such, it is virtually impossible to fill the class with URM’s during Early Decision.

    I hope that this helps.

  17. AnotherMom says:

    Leftcoast Mom,

    Thanks for your offer to converse and exchange experiences. Let’s see: the reality that DD is going to be a freshman in college this fall hit hard on Monday. I’m sure you can relate to that. grin DD could not understand how I kept thinking about her as a baby in my arms all those years ago. Pep talk from a couple of friends resolved that issue in a couple of days. I’m looking forward to this next phase of her life. Anyhow, I’m asking open ended questions and about a day later, she answers them. Lots of questions – so little time.