by Barbra Weidlein
When my son was considering schools to apply to for music, he quickly found that research on the internet and on schools’ websites brought up far more questions than he had before he started. He realized that he needed to talk directly to admission folks to find answers. But he found himself in a dilemma. He had to be at school every day by 6:30 a.m. and didn’t get back home until admission offices were already closed. He didn’t trust sending emails to generic admission office addresses, nor did he feel comfortable waiting for replies, knowing that his was one of hundreds of emails awaiting the admission staff every morning. He had barely enough time to get from class to class during passing periods let alone time to make phone calls; and the poor cell phone reception at his high school canceled out any hopes of making those calls during lunch.
I certainly didn’t want to be a helicopter parent. Nor did I want to take away any of the learning opportunities my son might have gained by contacting the schools himself at that point in the process. But the only option left was for me to make the phone calls to get answers to his questions.
Just finding the right person to talk with, at any of the dozen schools to which my son had finally narrowed his search, was exhausting. I quickly found out that during the fall, many admission directors are on the road at recruitment events. During the winter, they are often involved in auditions. And prior to May 1st, they are busy dealing with myriad problems and questions around acceptances and rejections.
Somehow, after spending far more time on the phone than I’d bargained for, I was finally able to get the information my son felt he needed in order to move along in his process of figuring out how and where to major in music.
What did I learn along the way?
1. To hone my questions and make them as brief and precise as if I were meeting with a doctor with a two-minute window to answer questions about a life-threatening disease.
2. To take good notes during and after every phone call and to verify names, job titles, email and direct telephone numbers. And to find out whether the contacts preferred emails or telephone calls.
3. To be friendly and considerate. The person answering the phone often turned out to be a work-study student hired to — answer the phone! He or she typically didn’t have any of the answers I was seeking. But they could steer me in the right direction. They could tell me who they would want to talk with if they had a similar question. They could also be valuable sources of other kinds of information, such as: what was it like to be a student at that school?
4. To realize that the tone of voice or the manner with which I was received was probably a reflection of factors unbeknownst to me. Perhaps the people who sounded rather rude or unfriendly had been stuck in traffic before I called. Maybe they were up all night with a sick child or elderly parent. Maybe they’d just gotten back into the office after extended travel, personal loss, or illness. I was never going to know.
I did, however, learn to keep track of my reactions and see whether future communications proved to be similar or refreshingly different.
5. To never, ever call on a Monday morning.
6. To start passing the role of asking questions and finding answers on to my son, to prepare him for four years of having to do this on his own.