Then, we actually have to /go/ to college.
December 8, 2009 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Pressure on high schoolers about getting into college: how to deal?

I'm asking on behalf of a friend, who told me most of this in confidence, so I have changed a few details but kept the gist of it.

We are both juniors in high school, but our parents have radically different views toward college. Background: my parents: Northeastern(mom), Stanford/MIT. Her parents: Yale, Berkely. While my dad (stanford) was super-genuis and got in everywhere he applied (including several ivies), he's encouraging me not to stress to much about school reputations, make sure to seek out lesser-known schools, and just find a really good fit. A philosophy which I agree with 100%. For this reason, I've done a bit of SAT studying, but mostly I just try my reasonable best in school and make time for really meaningful extracurriculars and such.

Her parents (specifically her mom), on the other hand, are putting an intense amount of pressure on her. Every single day this summer, she had to put in a minimum of two hours (that ends up being so much) on SAT prep. Her grades are probably in the 3.8ish range, lower than most at her (and my former) hyper-competitive school (it is a public school, but attracts a highly motivated group of students). The reasoning of "because it's junior year [so this is the most important year for college apps]" is used to justify leaving her at home during a 2-week trip to Italy for her mom, dad, and younger sister, her not being allowed to pursue any extracurriculars rather than the 'right' ones, etc.

She's had an increasing number of fights with her mother, mostly due to this pressure. In addition to using various four-letter words during these fights, her mother says things like "you'll only be able to go to community college" and similar things, and treats them as if they were the end of the world.

These fights are so frequent that she doesn't want to bring it up in the rare good (or at least better) moments they share. I think they impact my friend pretty harshly. She comes out saying "she's probably right" and those sorts of things, but I think there's also a deeper impact with this sole emphasis on the 'right' school and the traditional take.

I'm not sure how to help her. I tried to suggest therapy, for her or the two of them. Her mom is, apparently, extremely averse to therapy, and quite literally threatened divorce when her dad suggested family therapy a few years back. My friend already tried (and hated) the school person (what I've heard from everyone else about this lines up with that). She's not willing to pay for a sliding-scale therapist or anything of the sort.

Re-reading what I wrote, her mom comes across as a much different person than she is. She's a really interesting, well-traveled (especially interesting places like remote Tibet, where the entire family journeyed to a few years ago), smart woman in a very stressful, high-powered, well-paid lawyer career. When I speak to her, she's nice but not saccharine, and a really great person.

I don't know how to help her. Besides talking to her, and telling her stories (like my aunt, who got terrible grades in high school, dropped out of college, didn't do much for a few years, then started as a vet office secretary and worked her way up into being a rather famous veterinarian) of how things don't depend on this one thing, I can't help. I would love her to be able to spend a semester or year abroad during the heavy college season, just to give her some space from her parents while she handles the crunch time on her own, which I have no doubt she could do just fine, but her parents would never agree to that.

Her dad jsut kind of backs up her mother. My personal suspicion is that he disagrees with a lot of it, but doesn't dare do so publicly. From what I can see of his career, (went to Berkely, started as a public defender, but eventually got his own high-paid private job), he was probably not the kind of guy to focus to heavily on the exact right school.

I suspect this is all misguided 'help' from her mom, wants her to have all the advantages that she did, etc., but it really doesn't.

Ugh, sorry for the long post. I have a lot to say. It's kind of a fault.
posted by R a c h e l to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think all you can do is offer your friend the alternate and reasonable view that your family holds: that going to a "name brand" college is of low importance, and that being balanced and happy in life is the main thing. I don't think you can intervene in her unhealthy family dynamic, such as by speaking to her mom: that would be super-awkward and probably really out of place. Mainly I worry that your friend is going to become scarred or deeply anxious from all this pressure. She needs to have people remind her that there are alternate value systems out there.

From how you describe her mom, it seems to me like her mom is a high-powered, go-getter woman who succeeded because she placed this sort of pressure on herself. I don't think it'll be easy for her to learn that it's counterproductive to try to induce the same behavior in others through coercion, yelling, and threats.

Being left at home while the rest of the family goes on vacation sucks, as does the huge amount of required SAT-prep. I don't really know how you can help here, except to be sympathetic and to encourage your friend to stand up for herself (but I understand that could just cause more unpleasant conflict). What's silly is that she sounds like a great student and will almost certainly get in somewhere great, so all of this will most likely have a happy ending a year from now. But I know that's a long ways away.

Oh, and if you share this with your friend and she's inclined to listen to Stranger on the Internets: it REALLY doesn't matter where you go to college. And college admissions at the insanely competitive places is a crapshoot these days. Go easy on yourself.
posted by ms.codex at 11:18 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

quite literally threatened divorce when her dad suggested family therapy a few years back.

Family therapy.

Would it actually have killed you to bother reading the question before rushing in with "Therapy!" as the answer?

Poster, if the friend's father went to a public university and her mother still can't see that good things can happen for people who do, then it seems to me she's no different to a dad who can't leave his son to enjoy sport (he has to be the next Dan Carter!) or music (she must be the next Britney Spears!) without it turning into a life-by-proxy. In fact, contrary to ms.codex, I don't think that

so all of this will most likely have a happy ending a year from now.

...I suspect this will then turn into fights over performance at the next level of education, degree chosen, major chosen, internships, firms worked for, and so on.

If friend's mother isn't willing to address her own issues, or those around how she choses to deal with the family, then friend is either have to buckle under and hope things improve if she moves out for uni (for example), or lay down an Ultimatum. Like, "fine, you can't make me pass. Either chill the fuck out or I will blow my SATs deliberately."
posted by rodgerd at 11:39 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a shitty situation. I knew a few friends in high school who had super-demanding parents, to the point of restricting and nearly eliminating extra-curriculars and socializing. It leads to tremendous pressure that can almost crush the poor kids. I saw one of these people a lot and she developed a habit of bursting into tears from the stress and pressure. It almost killed her - same with another friend of mine - and the stupid thing is it made no damn difference; they were some of the brightest most hard working kids and you'll never convince me that the pressure applied in high school had any bearing whatsoever on their success today. Rather, it crippled them emotionally and damaged their relationship with their parents.

The obvious answer is to just be there and support your friend and do what you can to take the pressure off. However, that probably won't do much since the root problem is between her and her mother.

I was thinking about this for a few minutes and I had an idea. Your friend is facing this unbearable pressure from expectations, but in fact she has a fair amount of power here; after all it is her life, and she is the one who has to take the courses and the SAT, and no matter how hard they try her parents cannot control her grades, unless they're over her shoulder when she takes the tests. Thus, if she doesn't want to go to a big competitive school, she can easily not go - just 'have a bad day' when writing the SAT. This means that your friend is entirely in control of her destiny. In fact, she doesn't even need to study for the SAT. She can pretend to study and read comic books instead.

From this point on there are two people. There is your friend's "self" who your friend alone is in control of, and there is the phantom of her parents' expectations, a non-existent version of your friend who absorbs all of the bitching and pressure and stress. Her parents can restrict her mobility and freedom during her high school years, which is unfortunate, but their influence ends there. The phantom will evaporate in a puff of smoke one day and her parents are probably not ready for this, but it has to happen one day and the sooner the better for everyone's sake. Your friend can still even work hard and go to a good college. But she does so for herself, not for her parents. Or she chooses not to, if that's what she prefers. Hope this perspective is helpful.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:50 PM on December 8, 2009

*sigh* This has become entirely too common recently, and it's really discouraging to read what you wrote. As someone who went through the college admissions process a couple of years ago (and who ought to be studying for finals at this moment), here are a few ramblings that come to mind in the hope they may be useful:

Good for you for recognizing all this and wanting to help your friend. As you two go through the process, being a voice of normalcy and reason is perhaps the most important thing you can do. In particular, it's not all about college! When the pressure builds up, go do something completely non-academic for a while and try get your minds off of things. Go be teenagers. If you read nothing else, read that paragraph again and follow it, for yourself as well as for your friend.

My high school's college counselor was fond of repeating the simple phrase: You WILL go to college. From what you've described of your friend's situation, she is bound to be a qualified candidate at any number of fine schools. Above a certain tier of college, it literally comes down to dumb luck; they could fill their class several times over with fully qualified candidates. You win some and you lose some, and it has very little if anything to do with your application, let alone who you really are.

A 3.8 is nothing to sneeze at, especially at a competitive high school like you describe. Colleges really do care about more than just GPA.

ms.codex is right: it really doesn't matter where you go in many respects. When it comes down to the things that actually make you happy or unhappy in college, they are either factors that have nothing to do with the school you picked or factors you couldn't possibly have predicted in advance in choosing a school. The best you can do is apply to a wide range of colleges, pick the one you think is the best for you (not to be confused with the one with the best brand name), and move on to doing your best to enjoy wherever you go. The more I've been here, the more I recognize that college is what you make of it, not where you go, and I say that as someone who was quite satisfied with his admissions results.

I think a worthwhile track for your friend to pursue would be to try to seek out a college counselor for both private and family meetings, either someone at her high school (someone besides the much-hated person) or, if needed and finances permit, a private college counselor. If she finds a good counselor (and there are all sorts), she can get a lot of the benefits that would be provided by the aforementioned family therapy without triggering whatever therapy hangup her mom has. She could even call it a college "advisor" if "counselor" is too much like "therapist" for her mom's taste. Going to a good college counselor (i.e. one who doesn't feed into her mom's neurotic tendencies) would help her whole family move from the current neurotic "OMG college!" phase into a more productive and sane "here's my current college gameplan for the next N months." Her mom feels out of control. The best way to handle this is to make her feel that things are progressing and that she has a plan in place. A good college counselor can reassure her mom in that regard better than almost anyone else.

To put it in terms her mom may understand, that trip to Italy sounds like kickass practical knowledge for art and world history, among other things. Plus, something on the trip might just prove to build a great hook for her college application essay!

Finally, I'll quote something I am reported to have said during the summer after my senior year of high school: "Getting a good grade on your transcript was all important, not as much as what you learned." Learning and grades (and all the other baggage that comes with getting into college) have a rather tenuous connection and are rather often even orthogonal. Please, whatever happens, do your best not to lose sight of the actual point here, which, theoretically, is something to do with learning. Take a risk in one of your classes or assignments even if it means you might just get a lower grade if things don't work out. Take the class that interests you instead of the one your parents want you to take. Get to know your teachers. Read a book for pleasure sometime. Don't let college admissions eat up your entire high school career.

Well, there ya go. Best of luck to both of you.
posted by zachlipton at 11:54 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

As others have said, it seems like the best thing you can do is provide her with the knowledge that alternate ways of thinking about this stuff do exist. At the moment she has to live under her parents' rule, but she doesn't have to internalise their values.

Maybe you could study with her sometimes? Shared study-sessions might be an opportunity for her to spend some time studying because she wants to and enjoys learning, rather than because her parents are making her, particularly if that is your approach.

On the other hand, when she is allowed out, spending time with her not studying and just generally de-stressing might be really valuable for her.

When I was at school, we were taught that getting into the right uni course at the right uni straight away was the be all and end all. In reality (here at least), getting in to whatever course wherever, and then transferring is significantly easier than getting the perfect score first time around. I really wish they'd made this a bit clearer, and saved all the poor kids at my school a buttload of stress. If your friend is herself worried about 'screwing up her life', it might be helpful to remind her that there's always a backup option, which may even prove better in the long run.
posted by Emilyisnow at 12:40 AM on December 9, 2009

One thing you might be able to do is to bring this up with her father and just let him know she could use some support as she goes through this. Of course, that depends a lot on your relationship with him and his with her.

The other thing is that there are so many incredible schools these days that the whole idea of "Ivies+Mit+Stanford" as the only prestigious schools is pretty anachronistic. There are extremely-prestigious schools aplenty that are considerably easier to get into. There are also schools your friend might not have considered at all, like McGill in Canada or any number of schools in the UK, which would have the advantage of letting her study in an environment completely different than what her parents know and expect. I'm saying this not because I think she should necessarily go out of the country for college, but because her mother's view of "top" options seems remarkably narrow given the many options there actually are. You probably can't make your friend realize this, any more than her mother can't mold her opinions. But you can make your case and be a role model. And for what it's worth, she should definitely apply to Berkeley (but not go there unless she actually likes big schools).
posted by egg drop at 2:08 AM on December 9, 2009

My best friend in high school had parents not quite this bad, but enough to give her the occasional burst-into-tears experience. Things were made even worse when she (accidentally) came out to her super-religious parents, and when they went to therapy it was a Christian therapist who focused only on that "problem." What could possibly go wrong?

I think one thing that really helped her was supportive friends -- our whole group was looking at a similar caliber of schools -- and she built a really close relationship with our school's guidance counselor. Even though this woman's job was to get us all into college, she knew exactly how the overbearing parents at the school could be, and she was able to communicate with my friend's parents to keep them satisfied that the process was going as well as possible and get them off her back a bit. I know guidance counselors aren't able to give students that kind of individual attention anywhere, but it might be worth looking into.
posted by olinerd at 4:08 AM on December 9, 2009

Family therapy would be nice, but it doesn't sound like it's going to happen. The relationship with the mom is probably going to be difficult for several years, and there's little your friend can do about it.

Hopefully your friend's mom respects your parents' academic pedigrees, so could you have your friend get to know your own parents better? Have her over for dinner sometimes, and talk about this stuff openly? I'm thinking that your friend could benefit from some mentoring from adults who are not her mom. Your friend already senses that her mother is a bit nuts about this stuff, but is so dominated by that nuttiness that all she can do is resist and suffer through. She needs to develop a detailed alternative vision of her future, something to actively pursue. She needs outside, adult encouragement and validation. Help her find it.
posted by jon1270 at 4:17 AM on December 9, 2009

get your parents involved. her mother's always going to have a strong influence on her--that's normal, natural, and totally expected. but there is value in seeing other families doing things differently. let her see your parents telling you (and her!) that going to college is important, but not the most important thing in the world.

too many parents fall into this trap where they believe that where their children go to college is the final validation of their ability to parent--sending a kid to state school is the parent's fault, not the kid's. you might want to explain to your friend that her mom is putting pressure on her because she's insecure about HERSELF, not about your friend.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:30 AM on December 9, 2009

There's nothing you can do except be a supportive friend. And to make sure your friend knows that there are dozens of schools where she can get a world-class education if it's her goal to do so (and that she'll get a half-assed education even at the best schools, otherwise!)

But you also might recognize that her parents' attitude isn't just made up; there are advantages to going to as fancy a school as you can. Where they're wrong is in their approach to making that happen: after two hours a day all summer, I highly doubt your friend is getting any better at the SAT, but it sounds like her parents are still making her cram for it.

Most important thing: this situation is temporary. Your friend's life is going to be like this for about a year and a half more, and then she'll be IN college. Not community college, obviously (unless that's what she wants) with a 3.8 GPA. And then it's going to be a lot easier for her to make her own decisions about how to spend her time.
posted by escabeche at 5:13 AM on December 9, 2009

Sounds like these parents are garbage.

Frankly, the best people I have worked with, and I work in an environment that is both extremely competitive and which attracts its share of Ivy graduates, are those who did not graduate from Ivy league universities but rather who have the intelligence to actually do work.

Therapy is all well and good but likely impractical at this juncture. Your friend needs to man up and tell her parents to fuck off.
posted by dfriedman at 6:04 AM on December 9, 2009

Something I wonder about is how your friend's parents are hearing her feedback. If your friend says something like "I'm so miserable and stressed out. What's the point?" she probably means "This is making me deeply unhappy and I don't think it's worth it: I want to find an alternative" but her mom probably hears "I refuse to do the work necessary to get into a good school, have a successful career, and be a productive member of society."

On the one hand, your friend is right: her parents are going about this in an unhealthy and miserable way. But on the other hand, an actual solution for your friend is probably going to involve speaking to her parents as if she (somewhat) buys their premise. My younger brother runs into this with our parents all the time--they just think differently about education, and they don't know how to speak the same language so each side just assumes the other is clueless.

I think she should do some research (you can help!) and approach her parents with a plan:

"Mom, Dad, I'm pretty sure I want to be a lawyer. I've talked to Liz's mom, Tina's dad, and Uncle Frank about their careers in law. Tina's dad and Liz's mom both suggested that a well-rounded liberal arts education was important for a career in law, but Uncle Frank said he thought I should go somewhere I could major in 'Pre-Law' so I've found these three schools that have a strong Pre-Law program but will still allow me to take a variety of electives in other areas: University of the Shire, Mordor College, and Rohan State University. The range of SAT scores accepted by those universities is XXXX-YYYY, and my practice test scores are in the middle of that range. I'll keep studying and working hard, but I hope you'll grant me some independence as I work toward this goal."


"Mom, Dad, I don't know what kind of career I want, but I love studying biology. I've researched the top five biology programs in the US, and would like to focus on those colleges for my applications. The range of accepted SAT scores varies between the programs, and for some my practice test scores are at the top, and for others I'll need to improve my scores. However, I want to ask you for some independence on this. I'm self-motivated to do well because this is something I care a lot about. I know that you're trying to help me by imposing study-times and making me do certain extracurriculars, but I'm feeling incredibly stressed out and miserable, and I'd like to discuss possibly dropping Debate Team in favor of some free time to just decompress."

Also, therapy doesn't sound like it's an option right now, but a mentoring-type relationship with an adult might be a possibility. Is there anyone--youth pastor, teacher, coach, aunt/uncle--who your friend could ask for advice?

And finally, it's really nice that you're concerned about your friend in this way. Maybe you could make a point of making time to just have fun together--not to try to fix her parents or solve her problems--just to take a break, distract her from this stuff.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:02 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Instead of engaging her mom in an argument, she should say, "I resent the way you're talking to me. Even if I do get into those high caliber schools, you and I are probably going to have a lousy relationship in the future, so maybe we should just stop talking now." Hopefully that gives her mom something to think about.
posted by anniecat at 7:10 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Has your friend considered going to boarding school? It sounds like her parents can afford to send her to a good one.
posted by mareli at 7:16 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

While her parents are certainly contributing to a lot of anxiety, your friend sounds like she has it together enough to form her own opinion and logically separate her parents' beliefs from what she wants. Get her a book like Daniel Golden's The Price of Admission, which details how few spots in the Ivies actually go to kids because of merit. Then tell her that what she does in college is far more important than what college she gets into (on a personal level, the friends she makes and the activities she participates in; on a professional level, the internships she has or study abroad trips she takes, both of which might actually be easier at a small school). In the old days, going to an Ivy was the only way to get into high finance. Now that high finance has fallen apart, there's really no reason to care.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:22 AM on December 9, 2009

I'll tell you what I did when my parents tried to pull this sort of crap on me (and it wasn't nearly this bad, I was just much more contrarian). I told them that I wasn't going to college. I flat out refused to apply. I told them that they could ground me, that they could force me to sit in front of a desk with a stack of applications, but that they couldn't make me fill them out. They freaked out, they screamed, they cried, they arranged an "intervention" with my guidance counselor, but I just wouldn't budge. And there was nothing they could do about it, because they couldn't do it for me, and they couldn't force me to do it. (I suppose, theoretically, they could have kicked me out of the house and disowned me, but that would have been a bigger failure for them than having a daughter who didn't go to college, so I was pretty confident they wouldn't do that.)

Then, on the night before the college applications were due, I asked a friend's parents to drive me to the post office to mail the college applications to the schools I was actually interested in attending, which I'd been secretly working on in my spare time. I was able to do those applications without any pressure from my parents, and to apply to programs I was interested in, because my parents didn't know that I was doing it. They were too busy freaking out about the fact that I wasn't doing what I was told. I got into some great schools and ended up getting a scholarship to a school I liked and majoring in a subject I love (which had no practical applications whatsoever).

That was a really rough time in my family, and I'm not necessarily saying that your friend should do exactly what I did. It's a rough road. But the point is that your friend has options other than obeying and driving herself crazy. Now is a great time to rebel.

If either you or your friend needs someone to talk to, please message me.
posted by decathecting at 8:56 AM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I could have written this exact question when I was a junior (it's almost creepy how similar our situations are- my dad even attended the same schools as yours!).

First, let me say that you are doing the right thing by trying to comfort and support her. What your SAT scores and GPA are is not the only thing that matters in getting into a good college, and on top of that, getting into a good college is most definitely not the only thing that affects the rest of your life. It's becoming more and more common to attend some kind of graduate school after college, so even if your friend does attend community college (she won't, by the way- she sounds like an excellent candidate for many great schools), there's no reason she couldn't go on to become hugely successful. I would recommend a few books that helped me a lot in my college-application process:

For choosing schools to apply to (and for information to give to your friend's parents about the merits of each school), I really enjoyed Princeton Review's Guide and The Fiske Guide to Colleges. I liked them both because they gave me insight into the student life side of the schools (which was important to me), and they also gave easy access to key facts (SAT score ranges, tuition & total costs, school size, ratings of teachers, etc).

If your friend (or you!) is interested in applying to any liberal arts school, I cannot recommend this book enough. I give it credit for improving my interview skills and essay enough to get my into schools that my grades would not have alone. It would still be a valuable read even if you're not applying to a liberal arts school, but I understand that most other schools rely less on interviews and essays to determine admission.

As for some practical advice for dealing with your friend's situation, this is what I did in your situation, and what my friends who had those kinds of parents suggested for her to do:

  • I tried to take my friend out of her house as often as possible- for a study session at a coffee shop if that's all her mom would allow but when I could get away with it, the best times were blowing off studying and just going to the mall or seeing a movie or whatever she enjoyed.
  • I also never shut up about the benefits of choosing a college that you really enjoyed. My friends probably got tired of it after a while, but I like to think it made them think about it a little. Anytime someone brought up what colleges they were thinking about, I made it a point to mention how X private college has a good program in Y major too, or that D public school offers just as good teacher involvement for a fraction of the cost, or whatever. I was particularly passionate about people choosing the truly right college for them, regardless of what their parents thought, so it might not be as easy for you to get so riled up. :)
  • One of my friends who was in the same situation as your friend suggested essentially the same plan as Meg_Murry. I think it's unlikely you'll ever really change her mother's point of view about this, but what can help is presenting information, facts, statistics, etc that show how even if your friend doesn't get into an Ivy/Stanford/MIT, she can still be extremely successful (one of the things that helped my friend re: the competitive high school was to show what rank her GPA put her at in relation to other high schools in the area).
  • I realize this may not be feasible, based on what she wants, and it won't help for a couple of years, but I think that rodgerd is right about her mother's controlling behavior continuing and if at all possible, your friend should try to attend a college far away from home. Not being under her parents' thumb has significantly improved my friend's quality of life. Even though she still has rules about calling home X times a week, just the distance that means that her parents can't FORCE her to study, or join this club, or take that class, and it has helped her immensely.
  • You mentioned that your friend's father probably is more level-headed about the situation but is afraid to speak up. Has your friend talked to her father alone? One of my friends was able to discuss with her father how her mother was making her feel with all the pressure. Even if it doesn't result in her dad making some changes to her burden, it will at least hopefully get her a friend in the house that she can turn to for help or guidance without the agenda her mother has.
  • Something that helped both me and my friends in our college-search process was getting to know our high school counselor. You said that your friend doesn't like hers, but if there's any way she can get to know a counselor from a different grade level or even an admissions counselor outside of school, I think it would be a big help. They generally have seen enough students go through the process (especially if she finds a good counselor at her school, where they would understand the competitive environment) that they don't believe the nonsense that Ivies are the only way to be successful. A good counselor will help a student find the best college for them and help them get in with the most financial aid possible.

    I wish you and your friend good luck. Feel free to MeMail me if you or your friend have any questions or want to talk.

  • posted by jouir at 9:14 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

    There's lots of good advice above. I think your friend might also point out that in certain instances, community college transfers have a better chance of admission than high school students with a lower (relative term) GPA. The average GPA of freshman students accepted to UC Davis is 4.0. As a transfer student from CC my GPA was 3.7 and I was accepted into a very competitive major (my CC classes also allowed me to put together a portfolio of my work that was required. The sophomores that are now involved in that process at Davis only have about a 30% chance of passing the portfolio review, and their portfolios all contain the same projects from the same classes, which I think makes it harder to really stand out) . I suggest your friend write to the admissions person for the specific college that oversees her major at the universities she'd like to apply to (her mom's choices and hers). Ask them about what it takes to get into the major for transfer students and freshman, and if either has an advantage over the other.

    On preview, pretty much what Meg Murray and jouir said above.
    posted by oneirodynia at 12:17 PM on December 9, 2009

    I can't really relate because I had the opposite situation of uneducated parents telling me we were too poor for me to apply anywhere I really wanted to go, and so I only applied to state schools near home.

    She should apply to a decent state school where she can not only be accepted but get a scholarship. If she gets a big enough scholarship and doesn't need parental financial assistance, she can be free from her mom's grip.
    This is not the most plausible option, but it's one to think about. Is that a 3.8 out of 4 or 5?
    posted by ishotjr at 3:30 PM on December 9, 2009

    Thank you all so much. I wish I could response more carefully, but I wanted to throw in one more detail.

    Her long-distance boyfriend (not my favorite person, but that's not really part of it) just finished applying to college, and his first choice is Yale. I am quite sure he will get in. If she brings up any college but Yale with him, the person she talks to most often, it's "but why does that matter? You're coming to Yale with me!"

    ighotjr, it's out of a 4.0.

    3.8 doesn't sound so bad, but class-rank wise, it's less than excellent. I greatly doubt she's in the top 10% - it's a school that graduates anywhere from 17-30 valedictorians with 4.0s every year, and these kids have sometime 10, 11 AP classes under their belt.

    jon1270, I'm definitely going to talk to my parents about it a bit more, and then have them invite fiend's family over for dinner and maybe gently bring it up. Our parents get along great, and often mutually express a desire to see each other more often.

    I'm going to reserve all of the books mentioned from my local library, and pass them on to her. Her mom has a few books like this (seriously. read the reviews. scary stuff.) but I think that a few expressing a different viewpoint would be beneficial to friend, and if she wanted to share them with her mom, all the better.

    I'm probably going to make more of an effort to take friend out of the house to study together (I switched to a different school this year to do IB and get out of the rather toxic environment, so our classes are less similar, but I'm sure we could get something done) and just give her some sanity. I've definitely made an effort to stress my personal philosophy of "if I have to not be myself to get into a school, I'm probably going to be a terrible fit and hate it when I'm there. I'll push myself but not contort myself." but I'm sure gently and frequently repeating that wouldn't hurt.

    Thanks so much for all your fantastic answers. There is not a one that I don't want to mark as best answer.
    posted by R a c h e l at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2009

    Also: I wish I could jsut send her the link to this question to read everything. She'd be very upset and uncomfortable knowing I posted it, though. I'll probably print it out, highlight it, and subtly feed all your advice to her :)
    posted by R a c h e l at 5:43 PM on December 9, 2009

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