A Q&A With The Neurotic Parent

One of our favorite college admission industry blogs is The Neurotic Parent (http://neuroticparent.typepad.com/), and what we like best about it is the seemingly accidental nature of its existence. Ms. Rothman started her personal chronicle of the college admissions process as she helped her children navigate the gauntlet and recognized the increasing absurdity of its rigors.

Ms. Rothman is sort of a personal heroine for me because she has had the courage to call a spade a spade, while so many other rational people seem to have drunk the college admissions Kool-Aid. And, as it turns out, people have craved her wit and sarcasm to lighten the mood of such a serious topic – so much so that her book, The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions, has become an LA Times Best Seller!

Recently, we got in touch with Ms. Rothman to get a little insight about what motivated her to start the blog and what has happened since. Below is our Q&A! 

You write an incredibly informative, but lighthearted blog about college admissions. What triggered the creation of your blog?

In 2008, a fellow soccer mom encouraged me to blog when she heard I had planned an eight-state, twelve-college, spring break college tour with my older son.  She assumed I would write about our insane itinerary. But on the road I discovered even better blogworthy material: a stressed out breed of neurotic parents who bragged obnoxiously about their children during information sessions.  Many had been prepping their kids for college since birth.  In horror, I realized that my kids, who were good students but normal teens, would be competing with applicants who had discovered new galaxies or founded Tanzanian orphanages.  The blog went viral and I continued it anonymously for three years because I was afraid that revealing my identity would affect my sons’ college chances.  I did not even use my name when the dean of admissions of Kenyon published an excerpt in her book, even though she assured me that admissions people loved the blog and even recommended it to panicked parents.  Finally, when I made a deal with publisher Colleen Bates of Prospect Park Media (who also was a neurotic parent), she convinced me to put my name on the book.

What is the real purpose of your work? Is it to help people maintain a rational perspective?

My “day job” is as a children’s television writer, so for me, the original appeal of the blog was to write in my own voice without getting notes from dozens of network and studio executives.  But now that the book has become an LA Times bestseller, I realize that many parents are craving a little bit (okay, a lot) of levity to cope with the stress of the college admissions process.  I have done signings and panels all over the country, and many cities that we assumed were non-neurotic are actually filled with angst-ridden moms, dads and teens.  Parents contact me daily with “real” questions about which shoes their kids should wear to alumni interviews, how to get off waitlists or even whether their children should choose Tufts or Johns Hopkins.  I always preface my answers that I am really a comedy writer with no real credentials, but I now realize I am one of the few parent “experts” out there…someone who has been through the process twice with my kids.  And I do believe that laughter combined with real information does calm people down.

Do you ever see any backlash because people think you’re not serious enough? 

Although my book is primarily a humor book, many readers have told me thanked me for the laughs and also for providing them with a lot of real information about the process.  People want to laugh about the crazy state of affairs – kids with 12-page resumes, SAT tutors who earn more than top litigators, and Junior Kumon for 4-year olds.  I spoke at one packed event in the library of the East Bay suburb of Pleasanton, CA, a hotbed of neurosis. People were taking notes, even during my faux SAT, because as someone who has been on umpteen college tours, I do impart information that is not always available from counselors. Even the panicked parents on the anxiety-ridden website, collegeconfidential.com, have posted that they love the book.

How have you seen attitudes towards college admissions change since youstarted this blog?

The year my older son applied (’08-9) was supposed to be the Most Difficult Year to Get Into College in the History of the World because it was the peak of the baby boomlet.  But this year ended up even more competitive because students are now applying to 23 schools instead of 14.  (This is partly because of the ease of applying to multiple schools using the Common App, partly because students want to compare financial aid packages and partly because of the randomness of admission changes.) NYU said they had received a record-breaking 29,000 applications for the class of 2013, while this year, for the class of 2016, there were 44,000.

Another trend is that many of the Ivies are admitting fewer than 7% of applicants, when even five or six years ago their admission rates were 12% or greater.  So getting into the top schools has become a crapshoot – even for legacies, minorities and “development candidates.” And with the crash of the economy, I have heard of several cases this year of students turning down Ivies for schools that offer merit aid.  The other big trend is that graduates cannot find job, no matter which college they attend.  The final chapter of my book is called “Barista Readiness.”  The good news is that students can be successful baristas no matter where they go to school!  

You can probably see why this is one of our favorite blogs! A huge thanks to Ms. Rothman for her time and effort in answering our questions, we appreciate it greatly!

– Jessica