I thought the posting below would be a fun way to end the current academic year. It is based on the author, Alvaro Huerta's imaginary quest to prepare his 9 year-old son for entry into Caltech, one of the most competitive institutions in the United States. Originally published in April 27- May 3, 2009 issue of the Los Angeles Business Journal. Reprinted with permission of the Los Angeles Business Journal.
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Never Too Young for Old College Try
Now that the college application period for hundreds of thousands of high school seniors is over, the stressful part looms over their heads like a dark cloud as they await the acceptance notices. No more dreaded applications, embellished personal statements, exaggerated GPAs and expensive SAT prep courses, not to mention countless volunteer hours worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.
While filling out a stack of applications and attending classes simultaneously can be a drag for teens more interested in adding new friends to their MySpace page or acquiring the latest version of "Guitar Hero" for the Wii, nothing can top the nagging middle-class parents who invested tens of thousands of dollars (in some cases for the rich, hundreds of thousands) over the past 17 or 18 years to make sure that little Brad or Mary gets accepted into UC Berkeley, UCLA or Stanford. For instance, annual tuition (alone) at one of L.A.'s top prep schools, Harvard-Westlake School, is $26,250.
As many college-educated parents are well aware, getting into an elite university doesn't begin in high school. Not only did Mom listen to Mozart's greatest hits during her pregnancy and read nighttime stories to her newborn, she also made sure that Dad got his lazy butt off the couch to get that needed promotion in order to live in the right neighborhood with the best schools.
Before making sure that the local elementary school is a feeder school to the best junior high school and, subsequently, to a high-performance high school, leading up to an elite university, Mom and Dad first had to get their precious offspring into the top preschool program in the area. If they don't start early in the game, they worry that instead of Yale their kid may end up in jail.
>From electronic Leapfrog learning toys for toddlers to educational trips to Costa Rica's rain forest, from piano lessons to violin recitals, private tutors to expensive test prep courses, there's no limit for privileged parents who want to get their kid into one of U.S. News & World Report's top-ranked universities.
I am glad I'm not caught up in all this hoopla about getting my 9-year-old son, Joaquin, into the best university in the nation. While my wife, Antonia, and I managed to get him into a wonderful primary school, we don't drive around with a bumper sticker that reads, "My Son is a Student at UCLA Lab School." (Actually, the last time I checked, they didn't have any stickers of that kind at the UCLA student store.)
Recently, however, while preparing for written exams toward my Ph.D. and contemplating my eventual job search, I started to think about which university might be good for Joaquin. So while I requested several informational brochures from elite universities, like UC Berkeley and UCLA, I also requested one from Caltech in Pasadena - the second best university in the country, according to Forbes Magazine.
When my wife saw the glossy brochure, she said: "I didn't know that Caltech had an urban planning program? Are you applying there for a postdoc or a job once you finish your dissertation?"
"No," I replied.
"So why did you request a brochure from Caltech?" she asked, looking puzzled.
"Oh Š that's not for me," I responded. "It's for Joaquin."
"But he's only 9-years-old and in the fourth grade," she said, looking more puzzled.
"Precisely," I responded without hesitation, "it's never too early to start the college application process."
Alvaro Huerta is a visiting researcher at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center, and a doctoral student in city and urban planning at UC Berkeley. <firstname.lastname@example.org>