October 5, 2012 7:34 pm

An alma mater for life

One thing that even the best schools can be slack about is careers advice and help through the university maze. Isn’t it natural then for a parent to intervene?
Voicemail from Cost Centre #2, illustrated by James Ferguson©James Ferguson

The voicemail from Cost Centre #2 was to the point. “I am sorry to leave such an angry message,” it started, “but please will you stop micromanaging my life?” This opening plea was followed by a recital of incidents in the previous 24 hours that he felt illustrated my excessive intrusion into his affairs. “You are,” he pronounced at the end of the list, “really, really annoying.” He finished the message by saying “Do call me any time”, and finally, as an afterthought, “Love you.”

What brought on this outburst? Had I called a romantic target and invited her parents to dinner? Had I been through his drawers and removed all the clothes he insists on keeping even though they don’t fit him any more? No. I had emailed his tutor about the personal statement on his university application form.

We are at that stage in the year when there are multiple demands on CC#2’s time. He has just commenced his final year at school, and has his UK university application to submit, plus, because he wants to apply to the US as well, a series of US college applications to do. So I feel obliged to continually check by one means or another, that he is doing all the things he needs to by the appropriate time.

But should I? Should I demand to see his personal statement on his UK application form and then ask that he rewrite it several times? Or leave it to him? Or leave it to the school, which arguably costs enough money and should be providing this service? One thing that even the best schools can be noticeably slack about is careers advice and help through the university maze. Or am I the only parent who thinks so?

Hanna Rosin thinks I should cease and desist. Her new book points out that 60 per cent of college graduates in the US are now female, boys are not up to much and private US universities are apparently engaging in positive discrimination to ensure that their male/female balance remains 50:50. And she has interviewed college staff who say that girls make a lot of effort while boys tend to let their mothers do all the work around college admission. Well, I am sorry, but I think university entrance is more of a lottery than most people make out, and I just want to do enough to make sure that CC#2 at least buys a ticket.

Attending US college is becoming much more popular among UK students, especially since our university tuition fees have tripled. But this enthusiasm mostly comes from those at fee-paying schools and with high-income families. What if you don’t have a pushy mother who makes sure that you apply for the right internships and pays for you to go on an SAT preparation course? If CC#2 is going to show little appreciation for my efforts and leave abusive messages on my phone, I think I should volunteer my time to help with more deserving cases.

That is what Lisa Montgomery is doing. As the chairman of Edvice, a commercial service that helps international students apply to US colleges, she has helped the Sutton Trust (the UK charity working in the area of education inequality) set up a trial programme to support students from low-income families to apply to the US. This summer 700 youngsters applied for 64 places on the scheme, which takes them to the US to see campuses and then provides mentors and practical support throughout the college application process. Of those selected, 69 per cent will be the first in their families to attend university. The Sutton Trust already does very effective work in getting disadvantaged students in the UK to good universities at home, and I will be watching their progress with this pilot scheme with interest.

This weekend is a critical one in the life of CC#2 for two reasons. One is that today he has his SAT exams. And tomorrow, he turns 18. Happy birthday, darling. You are now an adult. But I will still be micromanaging your life, I’m afraid.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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