This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Parents anxious to start early on getting kids into top college

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Now that the college application period for hundreds of thousands of high school seniors is over, the stressful part looms over their heads like a dark cloud as they await the acceptance notices. No more dreaded applications, embellished personal statements, exaggerated GPAs and SAT prep courses, not to mention countless volunteer hours worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

While filling out a stack of applications and attending classes simultaneously can be a drag for someone more interested in the 50 Cent concert or new PlayStation model, nothing can top the nagging parents who invested tens of thousands of dollars (in some cases, hundreds of thousands) over the past 17 or 18 years to make sure that little Brad or Mary gets accepted into UCLA or Harvard.

As many of you are well aware, getting into UCLA does not begin in high school. Not only did Mom listen to Mozart’s greatest hits during her pregnancy and read nighttime stories to her newborn, she also made sure that Dad got his lazy butt off the couch to get that needed promotion in order to live in the right neighborhood with the best schools.

Before making sure that the local elementary school is a feeder school to the best junior high school and subsequently high school, leading up to an elite university, Mom and Dad first had to get their precious offspring into the top preschool program in the area. If they don’t start early in the game, they worry that, instead of Yale, their kid may end up in jail.

From LeapFrog learning toys to educational trips to Costa Rica, from piano lessons to violin recitals, private tutors and expensive test prep courses, there’s no limit for parents who want to get their kid into one of U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked universities.

I am glad I’m not caught up in all this hoopla about getting my 6-year-old son, Joaquin, into the best university in the nation. While my wife, Antonia, and I managed to get him into a wonderful primary school, we don’t drive around with a bumper sticker that reads, “My Son is a Student at UCLA’s University Elementary School.” (Actually, the last time I checked, they didn’t have any stickers of that kind at the student store.)

Recently, however, while completing my applications for my Ph.D., I started to think about which university might be good for Joaquin. So while I requested several informational brochures from the top urban planning graduate schools, I also requested one from Caltech. When my wife saw it, she said: “I didn’t know that Caltech had an urban planning program.”

“They don’t,” I replied. “So why did you ask for a brochure from Caltech?” she asked, looking puzzled. “Oh … that’s not for me; it’s for Joaquin,” I told her. “But he’s only 6 years old,” she said. “Precisely,” I responded without hesitation. “It’s never too early to start the college application process.”

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