Are we spoiling our kids with too many college options?

The hottest hits on this website are the pages relating to college ratings / private schools / boarding schools.  The hottest discussions right now on our yahoo discussion group site   relate also to college options as well as the possible routes that our kids might take in Japan to get there.  So today, I’d like to recommend that reading Joel Achenbach’s article “Opt, Opt and Away” , originally published as “The Endless Options of the College Tour” (posted below with permission pending), which takes a tongue-in-cheek dig at this generation’s indulgent parents who pander to their kids’ indecision by exploring every college option possible.

Opt, Opt and Away / The Endless Options of the College Tour

By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, May 3, 2009

We don’t take family vacations anymore, we just make college tours. Over the past couple of years, my wife and three daughters and I have mined a thick seam of colleges in the bedrock of the Eastern seaboard, including William & Mary, Penn, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, U-Mass, Amherst, Vermont, Skidmore, Bard, Cornell, Hamilton, McGill, Dartmouth, Bates, Bowdoin and SUNY Geneseo. We’ve also been interested in Wesleyan, Lafayette, Bucknell, Penn State, Colgate and Hartwick. Also Oberlin, Ohio Wesleyan and Wisconsin. And Colorado, UCSD, UC Santa Barbara, Reed and Whitman.

And the University of Guam. And the College of Antarctica.

And Venus A&M (scorching, but a great environmental science program!).

Why, you may ask, did we narrow our list to just 750 colleges and limit our search to the inner solar system? Because we’re Americans, and more than anything else, Americans like to have a lot of options.

We have created for ourselves and our progeny what you might call the Options Society. It’s a society in which people are encouraged to keep their options open. The normal state of affairs for college students, for example, is to keep all the most obvious career options — screenwriter, performance artist, eco-tourism guide, reality-show contestant, graffiti artist, sommelier, parasitical layabout, etc. — on the table as long as possible

Because of the Options Society, kids don’t apply to three colleges, or five, but routinely 12 or 15. My oldest daughter, a high school senior, has a classmate who applied to 21 colleges. Technology makes it easy to cast a wide net, for you can tour colleges via their Web sites, and many accept the “common application.”

Options have proliferated in America as the hypersensitive marketing forces figure out precisely what individuals want. This is why, when your kid asks you to buy Honey Bunches of Oats cereal at the grocery store, you have to reply, “What kind of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal?” Because “honey” is just one of the many flavors of Honey Bunches of Oats. (A key principle of modern America is that everything — possibly including automobile tires — must come in a cinnamon option.)

So just imagine how confounding is the college quest, with so many great schools, so many potential courses of study, such a wild world of possibilities. Our kids have been told since birth that the sky’s the limit. We’re the generation of parents who never learned to say no. We feared that saying no would damage self-esteem and cramp the imagination.

But have we deceived our kids about the way of the world? If you’re 17 years old, the economy is in the most serious recession since the year of your birth. Even those of us with all the advantages find our options narrowed, our worries piling up, our sense of affluence heavily eroded.

What do we tell our Bubble Economy kids? Isn’t it too late to give them the big Life Is Hard speech?

When I go into that mode I can see the eyes glaze over; all the kid hears is “Mwah mwah mwah mwah Great Depression mwah mwah mwah Dust Bowl mwah mwah mwah . . . .”

Maybe somewhere along the way we should have mentioned that life isn’t really about options, but about decisions.

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