Man in the Kitchen: Have We Lost Our Way Searching for the...

Man in the Kitchen: Have We Lost Our Way Searching for the Right School?

man in the kitchen

Okay, I’ll admit it. Every single college tour I’ve been on in the past three years has left me wanting to dig out my old corduroy sports coat and apply for the job of English professor, no matter which school we were touring! However, it has come to light that, as parents of a certain generation, our unbridled enthusiasm for the college selection process is not shared by the next generation – the ones we are tasked with inspiring.

This became painfully evident to me at a recent college information session I attended, where 95 percent of the questions asked were by people over the age of 50, casually ensconced in their Dockers or Lululemon sweats. The kids sat in stony silence, fiddling with their cell phones.

man in the kitchen
© Oui/123RF

My only memory of applying to college is no memory whatsoever. I picked some schools that seemed to match my SATs and grades. I typed my essays on folded forms that were hard to scroll into the typewriter and I fixed the mistakes with whiteout. If there was even such thing as early decision, I can’t recall. I dropped the applications in the mailbox at the bottom of our hill. Three months later I got back letters, some thick, some thin. Done.

Theories abound as to why the hunt for the right university has become such a painful stressor to our kids. Bad economies have raised the stakes. Acceptance databases like Naviance have turned college hunting into blood sport. Perhaps we are just projecting our own unrealized dreams onto our progeny. Regardless, shouldn’t we be worried when adolescent therapy practices are swelling, doctors warn us to hide the Klonopin from our kids, and widely published college lists now include schools with the highest stress rates?

man in the kitchen
© Stuar Miles/123RF

Somewhere along the way the search for college bliss has become a quantitative, rather than qualitative pursuit. A local high school in my community is urging students to have their choices in two months before applications are due because they expect to be sending out 20,000 transcripts – an average of 15 per student. This isn’t selective desire. It has become a numbers game and it is literally making our kids sick from the pressure.

Speaking as a parent of four (one done with college, one in, and two coming up), I think we have gone over the top. Call me old-fashioned, but I have always believed that the college experience should be eye-opening, not stress-inducing. Since none of my kids are showing signs of software coding, the only certainty is that whatever they study during freshman year will probably have little bearing on what they do for a job later down the road.

Which gets back to the core issue: Why go to college in the first place? How about to learn? To meet new people? To get out from under your parents’ roof? And at the age of 18, to start that long road of discovery about all the things you want to do. And equally, those you don’t!

I fear we have unwittingly raised the bar so high that we’ve created a generation that is scared to screw up.

What if kids were required to choose 10 schools anonymously based on their programs, people and professors, rather than their reputations? Talk about new meaning to the word “blind admissions.”

Author with son Ben on high school graduation day. © Ken Carlton
Author with son Ben on high school graduation day. © Ken Carlton

My son, a diehard sports fan, applied to eight schools last fall. He didn’t get his first choice. He did not get into any of his reaches. You’ll find him this weekend at a lovely college in upstate New York with a fine journalism program. Six weeks in and he reads the morning sports report every Monday on the college radio station. Last week he did his first hour-long chat show. And he sounds happy. As a dad, that is the win-win.

At the end of the day, I suspect he ended up exactly where he belongs. Teenagers, like flood waters, will always find their place. So if you’re reading this as your child goes through their nightly nervous breakdown, maybe your best bet is this: Ask what they love. What they desire. What are their hobbies, their passions, their most cherished commitments?

Shine a light on anything but the process. Maybe out of the darkness they’ll see their way to considering choices where the opportunities are endless and there are virtually no wrong answers.

man in the kitchen

Homemade Beefaroni Recipe

They will get those applications out. They will get in somewhere. They will leave you. They will eat canned food heated on a dorm room hot plate. This is better. And it is so easy to make, your kids might even enjoy preparing it with you.


  • 1 lb. ground beef or turkey
  • 1 white onion
  • One green pepper
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • One small can tomato sauce (or fresh diced tomatoes)
  • Oil, salt, pepper
  • One lb. box of macaroni noodles


  • Finely dice the white onion and green pepper; create about a cupful
  • Mince the garlic and sauté in a decent-sized frying pan
  • Add the onions and green pepper and sauté until soft
  • Crumble in the ground meat and brown it
  • Boil macaroni until al dente and drain
  • Add in the tomato sauce or tomatoes to the meat
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Add the drained macaroni to the meat and sauce mix
  • Stir together well, adding a bit of broth or olive oil if it seems dry
  • Scoop into pasta bowls and serve with grated Parmesan cheese

Useful Tip: Always freeze leftover chicken stock or soup broth (Wonton soup is best!) in an ice tray. Place the cubes in a Ziploc freezer bag or container. Those cubes of flavor are perfect for adding to sauces (like the above) if they need a bit of extra moisture and zing.

Ken Carlton is founder and editor-in-chief of Beyondish, a food review and storytelling website. He is the author or ghostwriter of eight books, including the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a dating expert on OPRAH. He still muses about food, relationships and parenting at his website, Food for Marriage. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago. You can follow him on Instagram @foodformarriage


  1. In hindsight did we ever really know we would end up where we have ended up. Hard to know as a young adult where life will take you. As a parent rejoice in knowing your kid will endure and succeed from his school of choice. So much time and energy over planning for our childrens lives. Chillax, their lives are probably already hundred times more fulfilling than ours at their age!

  2. Perfectly stated, Ken. This process — which I never went through (I never even took the SAT or ACT) — is bewildering to me! But in the end, everyone seems to weather it with their sanity (mostly) in tact. Perfect weather for that Beefaroni recipe.


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