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The Only 2 Things You Need to Look for When Applying to College

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A couple of summers ago, I went to pick up my 10-year-old daughter who was swimming with friends at a local pool and came across a preschool “graduation” party. They looked so little to me—it was hard to believe they would be kindergartners in September. The teacher recognized my daughter’s friends as former students at her Jewish preschool. I confirmed that yes, they had gone to that preschool, but my daughter had not.

“She did go to preschool though; she is a preschool graduate,” I quickly assured her. The absurdity of my response struck me, as if my daughter’s pedigree was in question.

Just months later, about one year ago, I was at another transitional education point—my eldest child was applying to college. This time there were three adults (I know, it’s generous to call a 17-year-old an adult) involved in this decision, not two. We were hopeful that we had instilled in our son the ability to allow his life to unfold organically. We hoped that with our guidance he would apply similar criteria to the college search that we did for the preschool search:

1) Is it a place where my child will be safe and happy?

READ: What Happened When My Toddler Learned How to Say ‘No’

2) Will he have a variety of learning opportunities, both academic and social?

Beyond that, I did not sweat the small stuff and fortunately neither did he. I was confident that he would get into one of the 3,500 colleges and universities in this country. He is a great kid with a “resume” that reflects his interests, capabilities, and growth. He had an idea of the kind of place he wanted to attend, and we supported him wholeheartedly.

“Remember the crib,” my husband and I reminded each other.

When we were shopping for a crib before our first child was born, we looked at many cribs in an enormous baby store until our eyes glazed over. They were all nice and would all do the job. Do we buy the super expensive most beautiful crib or the functional, practical one? We settled on the latter. We realized once we got it home that we didn’t remember what any of those other cribs looked like. What made our crib adorable was the baby in it.

We apply the crib theory to most decisions in our lives: don’t agonize, go with your gut feeling, and trust your inner voice. We’ve found you don’t need to treat every decision as if it’s a high-stakes, win-lose situation. Generally, things turn out the way they are supposed to.

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My children are all preschool graduates, from a few different schools. They don’t remember their preschool years, but I do. As long as they were in a place where they were safe and happy, that was fine with me. The fanciest, most prestigious, most expensive schools were not the criteria we used to pick preschools. Location and a good vibe was what we were looking for.

“I thought you sent me to school to learn,” I told my mother when I sent my first child to preschool, “but it’s the best child-care ever!”

It was an epiphany for me. I was not the mother weeping when her 2-year-old went off to class for three hours, twice a week. I was the one skipping happily out of the building to savor a few hours of freedom.

College would be a different experience, but maybe not so different. Yes, he studies and learns. And he puts into practice the lessons he learned in preschool like how to use his words, how to share, and how to keep his hands to himself (hopefully). He is in a dorm with people looking out for him. I didn’t skip away when we dropped him off, but I wasn’t weeping either. What a difference a few years makes.

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I try to keep it all in perspective—a happy and independent adult is the goal, however he gets there.

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