By Shelley Murphy
Today marks the first day of summer and the June solstice. A time for students of all ages to say goodbye to the textbooks and hello to the beach.
Before scurrying to sandy shores, students stop to sign yearbooks, scribbling across the colorful pages, “H.A.G.S.!” The popular acronym translates to “Have A Great Summer,” but for college-bound kids it’s interpreted as “Hurry up And Get Started!”
I did spend my high school years having great summers and not thinking about college applications or standardized tests—but that was long ago, before the inception of the college admissions game.
Rising high school seniors planning to attend college after graduation will forgo carefree summer days playing Fortnite or binging on Netflix before building resumes and developing networks.
Soon-to-be seniors have little time for relaxing and recharging at the beach. The summer heat they feel won’t come from the sun’s rays or the grill’s fire, but from sweating over essay drafts and application edits.
My heart aches for stressed students feeling the strain of summer’s demands. I empathize most with the high school seniors and their families during this time. They’re about to embark on an emotional college admissions rollercoaster, a ride celebrating the highest peaks and bemoaning the deepest descends, which can be to the tune of tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
The pressure of the college admission process is inescapable for applicants. Students are advised to seize the summer and excel in sports arenas, extracurricular activities, academic challenges, philanthropic services, international journeys and employment opportunities.
If families are fortunate to find time for a summer vacation together, the destination is likely determined by their student athlete’s travel team, college campus tour schedule, or cultural diversity lesson abroad.
I’m by no means a college admissions authority, just a mom who white-knuckled it on the collegiate rollercoaster with one son, and I’m also a reluctant parent buckling up for another ride.
This summer, it’s déjà vu all over again: my younger son is spending his summer playing the college admissions game, but this time he’s applying to law schools.
My son started studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) last year. Last month, after completing his junior year of college, he came home to continue studying and preparing for the looming LSAT.
One day, while studying, he asked for my help. I picked up his practice test consisting of analytical and logical reasoning questions, read the first question and quickly closed the booklet to stop the room from spinning.
Lucky for both of us, he didn’t need my assistance with the test material but with the test clock. He asked me to watch the clock as he took each of the five, 35-minute test sections.
Months ago, we debated his taking the practice test amid distractions. Hopeful law school students claim to have taken practice tests in sports bars, on commuter trains, and one took it in a walk-in freezer (yes, the overachiever was accepted to Harvard).
We agreed I’d recreate reasonable distractions that could occur during the test—I reluctantly ditched plans to recruit a colicky infant.
The morning of the practice test, my unsuspecting son sat ready with his No. 2 pencils. Prior to proctoring the test, knowing he loathes the heat, I cranked the thermostat in our home to 91 degrees.
During each of the five test sections, I randomly squeezed plastic water bottles until they compressed, tossed hardback books onto our tile floor, jumped up and down in the bedroom above his test table, honked my car horn, sneezed and coughed. At the end of the test we were both exhausted and showing signs of heat stroke.
My son took the LSAT last week; now, we hurry up and wait for the results as he struggles to Have A Great Summer.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.