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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, August 7, 2011

F*&K You New York Times "Trend" articles

Dear Parents of College-Bound High School Students,
For the sake of your own sanity, I recommend avoiding reading any NYT trend pieces about what extreme measures prep school kids are taking to get into college.
Old Biddy

Dear everyone else who does not make >$500,000/year,
Avoid all the NYT trend pieces about what really rich white people in Manhattan are doing. It will make you all ragey.
Old Biddy

Don't get me wrong, I like to read the NYT, especially on-line or when I can get it for free on campus. I know they cater to a mostly NYC, mostly financially secure crowd. But do we really need more front page trend pieces about how rich people are spending their money? I'll use high school kids and their parents as an example, since I am far enough removed that it is easy to see the irony in it without getting jealous or freaked out. There are similar trend pieces for single people, retired people, etc. There are elements of truth in it, but it may not be particularly widespread. Unfortunately, it's like rubbernecking a train wreck, and I inevitably read them and feel sort of dirty afterwards. So I am channeling this into blog fodder. Anyway, back to the mythical NYC prep school kids. Their parents are now sending their kids to camp via private airplane, hiring pricy tutors for their kids who are already going to pricy prep schools, or arranging super-duper extra special summer activities for their kids to improve their chances of getting into college, usually with the help of counsultants who will arrange things for a fee.

In the typical article, 90% focuses on the expensive activity and why people think it's necessary, and 10% is about how not everyone can afford to do this and 'maybe' it's not really necessary. It's so far over the top that it's usually comical, at least to an old biddy who doesn't live in NYC. For instance, in the article about the kids going to summer camp via private planes, one parent interviewed complained about how pervasive it was and how that completely ruined the summer camp experience, and then in the next line, the article said they now send their kids to camp in Europe. Uh WTF?
Summer camp is one thing, but articles about the college admission process must freak out parents of high school students. Apparently, hiring tutors for 15-20 hours/week is quite common* even for kids who are doing well, as is paying counselors to help with the essay or arrange for extra-enriching summer activities guaranteed to increase your chances of getting into Harvard or one of my fine alma maters/employers. Apparently, the days of working a typical summer job are over, and even the cushy internships at your parents or parents' friends investment banking firms aren't helping your chances. (No surprise to the latter part.) Once again, a token paragraph or two is devoted to 'maybe this is not necessary', including quotes from college admissions people, who, quite shockingly, suggest that this is not necessarily any more helpful than a summer job at an ice cream place or doing sports.
Uh duh - I'm sure these things look better than just spending all summer hanging out at the mall, but they don't necessarily look better than working a regular summer job to save money to go to college. But if I were average suburban middle class parent with a kid in high school, I might be freaking out. So avoid the NYT until your kid is in college.
I think that the New York Time should hire me as a writer and I will do smack-downs of their trend pieces. My first one will take on the college admission process. Here's a basic synopsys.

Parents of High School Kids Need to Chill Out
by Old Biddy, Ph.D.
If your kid is in a good high school, either public or private, and has great grades and test scores, and has suitable interests/hobbies outside school, they will get into a good college. They may not get into their first choice, or your first choice, but they will still get in somewhere good. The extra tutoring/admissions counselors/summer activities 'may' help a little bit for one or two schools, or it may not, but it's not going to make or break their chances, because, shocking as it may seem, not everyone can afford to do these things and college admissions officers actually know this. Shocking as it may seem, they may not even want to admit a whole class full of rich kids from Manhattan. Your kid might get a leg up over another rich kid from Manhattan who spent the summer at the Hamptons tanning, but it's not going to guarantee anything against the applicant pool as a whole. Your kid might actually have a better chance if you moved to Kansas or Montana and sent them to public school.
If your kid does not have great grades or test scores, here's the good news. They may still do very well in life. The not so good news is that college is actually a lot harder than high school, so you may not be doing them any favors if you pull too many strings and get them into a really competitive school.

Stay tuned for when I take on other types of NYT trend pieces.

* We get a lot of kids from NYC here and apparently the private tutoring is really common. A lot of them automatically hire a tutor now instead of going to office hours or waiting to see how they're doing in class. It's good for the grad students, since they can charge big bucks for this, but it is a step change from when I was in school and everyone just went to office hours for free.

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