Unschooler Upshot

20140416-151349.jpgI promised to update readers on the story of my "unschooled" son's college quest. Last seen, he was working himself to the bone prepping for a second assault on the Chemistry subject test with no classroom experience of the subject. He was also working on applications and essays for applications to 13 schools. ( We had qualified for a fee waiver for the 12 schools using the Common Ap)

Here is what happened: He got into his 3 back up choices, and did not get into any of the Ivy league/top engineering schools. He did get waiting listed for Georgia Tech which is a prestigious school in the world of Computer Science, but as we are far from independently wealthy , and we understood that there was almost no hope of sizable financial aid off of a waiting list, we could cross this option off straight away.

Here is what also happened: My son received an email from his Harvard interviewer expressing honest disappointment and even dismay that he had not gotten accepted by Harvard. She had felt that he was a great candidate and could only remind him now that admissions committees make mistakes. Her email was both well-intentioned, and painful for my son to receive. He had to wonder if perhaps we just didn't create a viable application that accurately represented his skills and accomplishments compared to those of school kids? I immediately felt the guilt of the home school mom….what did I know about being a guidance counselor? Why did I decide to award grades on his transcript when I do not believe in grades and now realize that other homeschool transcripts do not include grades? How many other mistakes might I have made in how I represented his free-form sponge-like learning abilities?

Here is another thing that happened: His top "backup" choice offered him about $40,000 of aid, mostly in outright scholarships.

My son and I spent a few days feeling sorry for ourselves. We both loved the idea of those serious schools with their focused driven student body. That was the kind of environment my son has dreamt about, a place where he would find like-minded souls whose skillset would compliment his, and together they would be able to dream up projects and ideas to change the world. He has worked very hard, very much on his own for a long time.

We both thought about back-up plan B, which is to not attend college next year. He is in the middle of a very exciting interesting programming project with a kid from Canada, who he met at MiT Splash. He could envision devoting himself to projects like this, many of which are likely to realize profit eventually, one way or another.

However, if nothing else, my son needs people to play chess against. I think that he and I are coming around to feeling quite convinced, that in the end, he will attend the top "back-up" school. (a school not generally viewed as a backup anyway) If the experience is disappointing, he can work on transferring to one of his dream schools. Alternatively, if he likes the school experience, an undergraduate degree from this good school would be a logical stepping stone to one of his dream schools.

We have both concluded that we (or maybe it is fairer to say "I") made a decision a long time ago to educate this child in the most creative and natural way possible. It should not now be a surprise that he does not fit into the mold of top college candidate. We are slowly taking heart from the experience which is a reminder of his most unique education, that in the end is not readily definable. His unusual path will continue to unfold.

As an addendum, it was apparently a year of record-breaking numbers of applications to top level schools, and without perfect SAT scores and every other qualification in place…..

7 thoughts on “Unschooler Upshot

  1. Tasha, Please stop second-guessing yourself and both of you stop talking about “dream schools”.In the context of the larger world any one of the schools you applied to can offer students who are motivated and able, a springboard to unimagined accomplishments. The opportunity to attend any of them is an opportunity reserved for a tiny minority of the human population. Leo, take the best financial deal so you and or your parents don’t end up in a dollar pickle , and go and apply yourself fully while connecting to whatever your peers and the school have to offer that makes sense to you. Remember also, that there are plenty of yo-yo’s accepted to “dream schools”who will not avail themselves of the offered opportunities and end up in training for a lifetime party. Some of them were accepted because a parent attended or a wealthy grandpa paid for a new gymnasium. I believe in both of you. Tasha because your approach to education was right and you stick to it diligently. Leo because you are self motivated and interesting to be around. So, there you have it. The truth from Grandpa-Dad will set you free
    of your stress over “dream schools” and meeting societal expectations.
    Love to you both….Grandpa-Dad

    • Grandpa-Dad,
      Thank-you for the trust and faith in us expressed at the end of your message.
      As to the beginning: you MUST know both of us ( mother and son) better than that! We would not have gone through all of that simply because of societal expectations. I really do not think so. As you know, the son in question has seriously pursued computer science for a number of years now. He was truly focused on earning a place at a school in which he would be surrounded by other extremely inspired students. He abhors being bored in a classroom, something he is currently experiencing at the very solid liberal arts school where he is enrolled in a college math class that moves at a painfully slow pace for him. Another factor that critics of our angst seem to miss, is that acceptance to one of the “top” schools comes with full tuition for financially disadvantaged students, so this is not a question of wishing that we could pay a lot more money to go to one of them. One of them would be cheaper.

      Lastly, I am not “second guessing myself” out of some kind of masochistic tendency. I feel an obligation to my small readership which does include some parents of younger unschoolers. They have indicated interest in the outcome of this college journey, and I wanted to provide the current update in all its honest gore. It didn’t turn out like we hoped, and we are processing our feelings. The only thing we could have done to prevent feeling this disappointment, was not to try so hard. I am proud that that was not a choice.

      I Will end with a final defense of the ivy league schools we did visit and the 2 amazing top engineering schools. They were awesome!! Of course someone like my son will find his way out of paper bag if he has to; I am confident of that. Let’s hope that where ever he ends up, he does find himself in an inspired group of young people like himself. Friends would be good.

  2. When your disappointment involves a great school and a full scholarship…I understand the feeling, but it just goes to show we’re all fucking crazy. The whole process is whacked and a crap shoot so – Congratulations!!!! It is awesome. Job very well done! You happen to be the mother of four brilliant creative wonderful children.

  3. I totally agree with Jessica! I know there is disappointment, but you and he have had an awesome educational life! And the application process (and acceptance process) is oblique at best. Getting major financial support from a pretty great school is awesome indeed. It sounds like the Harvard interviewer is letting you know that your guy was just right, but that the process isn’t. He’s terrific as are you. Congratulations to you both. 🙂 even if it doesn’t feel fully what you were hoping for, it is probably right for him for now.

  4. Harvard — especially its vaunted business school — somehow manages to make room for the “princelings” of the international 0.001% and I cannot imagine that their academic qualifications are always perfectly, legitimately stellar. I write this just to suggest that Harvard is not the be-all, end-all of academic purity and goodness. Also, my ex’s friend is a Harvard interviewer (they both went there back in the days when it was excellent, but attainable) and FWIW she told him she is flummoxed as to what the school’s criteria are as they have NEVER yet taken a kid she has recommended. In other news — Hey, I am really enjoying your blog! And best wishes to Leo; I know he is going to do amazingly well.

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