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Do you help your grandson sneak into university?

Your grandson has applied to a prestigious university, and his marks are just shy of the admission cut-off. You know he would have sailed through had he not missed so many classes in his last term due to his parents’ messy breakup. The dean of the college is an old friend. Do you call in a favour?

By Ken Gallinger and Ruth McQuirter Scott



Okay, let’s start with the assumption (albeit questionable at times) that going to university is about actually learning something. If I choose to call in the favour, I will teach my grandson a number of very useful life lessons, such as knowing someone in power paves the way to success; those who “know someone” don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else; and making excuses for your poor achievement (“Mommy and Daddy are fighting”) pays off in the end.

All of these lessons may reflect the way the world works most of the time. But they are not, really, the things I’d choose for my grandson to learn.

Besides, there’s a better way. Most universities today, while they may have stated cut-offs, in fact are quite prepared to listen to well-articulated arguments for acceptance from eager applicants. So I’d offer (not insist) to sit down with my grandson and go through his application with him. This would give me a chance to look over how he has built his case and perhaps teach him some more convincing ways to tell his story.

I wouldn’t encourage him to plead for sympathy based on his parents’ breakup. I don’t, in fact, “know” that he would have sailed through without the breakup; it might have been messy, but not all 17-year-olds skip school because their parents are fighting. Some hang tough and do very well indeed, despite incredible adversity.

Universities, as well as employers, look for people with backbone who persevere through difficult circumstances. So I wouldn’t want to set up my grandkid to be yet another excuse maker, of the kind that today is sprouting up everywhere like fungi on the lawn. Instead, I’d try to help him sell himself on his virtues, achievements and commitment to learning — rather than using his parents as scapegoats and his sadness as an alibi.

Author's photo
Ruth McQuirter Scott is an educator and member of Port Nelson United in Burlington, Ont.


It’s clear that my grandson has been deeply affected by his parents’ divorce. He seems confused and anxious. He had no control over what happened, and now his dream of attending a top-notch university is on hold. It just isn’t right.

It would be so easy to help him. Just a quick call to my old friend. How perfect that she’s the dean of the faculty he’s applied to. She owes me a favour anyway.

But something nags at me and keeps me from picking up the phone. I haven’t even spoken with my grandson. Can I be sure he would want me to do this? He missed so many classes last term — is he stable enough to move away from home and take on the stress of university? I need to talk with him and his parents before jumping into this.

Something else tells me to wait before playing the friendship card. Would I be sending him the wrong message by pulling strings rather than helping him deal with the consequences of missing classes? My grandson isn’t the only teen scarred by divorce or other problems. Is it fair for him to benefit from my inside contact? There must be university officials who will look at each case on its own merit.

The past year has been devastating for everyone. I desperately want the healing to begin. But a Band-Aid solution may not be the wisest move. Perhaps we all need time to adjust to this new reality. I will assure my grandson that he has my love and support. That may simply mean listening to him and being a calm, stabilizing force in his life. It may involve helping him and his parents find the proper route for contacting the university. It will not include placing a call to my friend, the dean, who owes me a favour. 
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