The Loh Life is writer/performer Sandra Tsing Loh's weekly take on life, family, and pop culture in early 21st century Southern California.
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Breaking sad, part 3: college essay

Sandra Tsing Loh and expectations for college admission.

I'm dizzy over the nosebleed high expectations of today's college-bound students.  On a recent high school tour, I learned that the International Baccalaureate program teaches such core 21st century skills as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.  This ensures not just success in tomorrow's changing workplace, but creation of a better planet.  All around me, kids are auditioning for middle school, taking the PSAT in sixth grade, learning to program in HTML and Java.  It seems you're nowhere if you haven't launched a Kickstarter to send water to Africa or home-built a solar powered car!

Which has caused me concern for a 17-year-old who-?  Let's call him my godson, a friend of a family relative.  I don't want to say more in case the UC admissions board is listening.  We'll call him... Skip.

According to his perhaps admirably Zen dad, Skip's GPA is "somewhere in the 3's, if you count AP classes."  And how about Skip's SAT's?  Quote-unquote: "There are kids who have been known to have gotten into college with SAT scores somewhere in that range."  That said, essays for those UCs are due Nov. 30, and here the help of extended family is being solicited.

The problem: while a normally chatty and sociable kid, here Skip is absolutely stumped.  Here's his college essay prompt:

"Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution, or experience that is important to you.  What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud, and how does it relate to the person you are?"

"The things I like to do though," he says, "are, you know, biking, running, and hanging out with my friends."

"But, don't you have passions that drive you?" exclaims his trial lawyer aunt, from out on the third branch of our emergency family conference call.  "Aren't you driven to learning, doing, creating?"

Much probing reveals Skip used to enjoy playing with Legos.  Great!  Brainstorming a bit, we Tiger Moms quickly whip that into a heady self-actualization soufflé.  Certainly the lego fascination suggests a native love of building... which clearly suggests Skip has a passion for international travel, so he can visit African villages that need him to build water towers that are probably solar-powered!

"But admissions officers can tell when kids' essays are faked," warns another mom friend.  "Who knows?  They might find it refreshing - and certainly different - if one kid actually admits the truth.  That what he loves is biking, running, and probably sleeping."

Easy for her to say.  Her two kids are already through college - and one is back home again.  They're probably like those Harvard grads I read about who can tutor high school seniors in writing those killer college application essays.  Argh!

Next week: Vegas, Baby!