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“Who Says I’m Going to College?”

Updated: Mar 2, 2019



That’s what my brother yelled into the phone at me in 1988. He was a high school senior and I was a college junior, and somehow even though he was the third Clancy to go through Unionville High School, he managed to not only miss taking the SATs, but had no idea what they even were.

Literally none. He’d NEVER heard of them.

I know.

So like any normal person, when he asked me what they were I yelled back “what do you mean what are they? How do you not know what they are??”

Which completely set him off.


“Because we’re all seeing and hearing people who saw and heard lots of SAT ads every damn day of high school (this was in the day of old school paper flyers that probably littered the bottom of his backpack). Where have you been? How do you not know what they are?!”

After lots and lots of expletives, he continued:

“Seriously, WHY does everyone keep saying that? Mom and dad are downstairs yelling about it. Joey yelled at me. You’re yelling at me, Chip (his best friend) yelled at me, but no one is telling me what they are!”

I took a deep breath and went into older sister mode, ‘They’ are an ‘it’. And it is a standardized test most high school kids take to use as part of their college admission applications.

This did not calm him.

“COLLEGE? COLLEGE?? Who said I was going to college?!”

Um, mom, dad, Joey, me, your guidance counselor, literally every adult who knows you…

“I never said I wanted to go college! I want to work with horses, and you don’t have to go to college to do that. I’ve wanted to be a jockey my ENTIRE life. I’ve been telling everyone that since I was three. How is anyone surprised by this? I don’t need to go to college. I don’t want to go to college. I have no plan to go to college. I. AM. NOT. GOING. TO. COLLEGE.

He did have a point.

He’d been in love with horse racing since birth, and dressed as a jockey every Halloween for as long as I could remember. I thought he ruined Halloween for years (our Halloween involved people guessing who we were) until it dawned on me we weren’t fooling anyone. We lived on a farm, so my mom drove us on a trail of friend’s houses from PA to DE that ended well past midnight. No one else was rolling up in a station wagon driven by a clown (my mom wore the same clown suit every year too) w/ a blonde jockey and 2 surly older kids in tow.

No one else was rolling up at all, yet somehow in my mind it was all the jockey and clown’s fault. But that jockey was right. In seventeen years he had NEVER even hinted about wanting to go to college.

Still, my parents were having none of it. They pulled out all the standard arguments – it’s a great experience, you need to be more well-rounded, you need a career to fall back on if being a professional jockey doesn’t work out, you need to explore other options and then the ever popular, and argument ender, “because we said so.”

And that was that.

Game over. He was going.

They somehow found one last SAT test opening at a school nowhere remotely near us (it might have been in Michigan). He took it with zero prep and zero interest (I recommend a different strategy). My parents submitted a super late application and pulled some strings with a vet professor friend and got him admitted into an animal studies program at University of Delaware.

They made the college entrance piece happen, but the rest was all him. He did become a college student, a fraternity brother and a full time steeplechase rider, and now has a career he loves  which wouldn’t have happened without all the other pieces happening first. He worked hard for everything he accomplished, but likely wouldn’t be where he is without my parents pushing him.

There was a whole lot of miscommunication and a fair amount of disagreement along the way.

Who hasn’t been there?

So talk to your kids, ask what their plan is, keep asking, and understand it may change. Repeatedly.

My daughter has already switched her proposed path of study from nursing to fashion merchandising. And I know (and sort of hope) it may change again. My son is now heading to his third college. So much of figuring out what you want in life is figuring out what you don’t want.

None of it is easy, but all of it is possible. Opportunity abounds for our kids; our job is to make sure they never lose sight of that. I have learned not to push too hard for a school I think is a good fit (college #1 for my boy man), and instead let them lead those decisions (college #2 for the boy man). It can be hard to let them lead, and even harder to watch them fail. It helps me (a little) to remember that fail means ‘first attempt in learning,’ and that every new experience is a learning one.

So let them learn, let them struggle, let them fail, and most importantly let them lead. But maybe remind them about the the importance of taking the SATs  and adhering to all the other important deadlines along the way.

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