Grades, Guidance, and Goliath: Confessions of a Director Dad

The blog post below is from our very own Director of Admission, Kirk Brennan. He shares with us the struggles of being a parent of a prospective college student as well as having a leadership role in higher education. Understandably,  juggling these two roles is extremely delicate. Thank you, Kirk, for sharing your insight into what our parents go through during this stressful time! 

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This coming Monday will mark the eighteenth anniversary of the day my wife (whom you may remember) delivered our first child. Though I have worked in admission for 22 years, this particular year — the one in which that child is applying to college — feels like my first day on the job. What a strange way to view my job: through the eyes, and from the home of a prospective student.

I had many disillusioning observations this year. I saw that tours of very different schools sound the same, that college marketing materials look alike and even say the very same things, and how a small number of marketing companies vendors seem to drive this process for many schools. I saw that a great deal of a student’s impression of my university is not controllable, and I was especially disheartened when my own student, after feeling proud to receive a mass-mailer from a college, quit reading any of them only days later, and even felt anger as she sifted through them. At USC and in the admission profession in general, we work hard to be helpful, but some days I’m not sure how much we’re helping (and I welcome your suggestions at

What strikes me more than anything is the emotional roller coaster of the senior year. I was saddened to watch mundane events of life magnified to become critical pieces of a puzzle that lead to college; a grade on the tiniest quiz prompts a crisis, or a choice to relax one afternoon is seen as a potential deal breaker for college admission, therefore career, then lifetime happiness. Then there’s the list; so many colleges to consider, will she love these schools, did she miss a better fit, and can she even get in at all? Then filling out the applications, especially the anxiety behind answering the least important questions on the application (we discussed “What’s my counselor’s job title?”). The temporary relief of completing them was soon replaced by confusion over the lack of communication as colleges read. Now the decisions are coming out– the grand finale of this ride — one day she gets in and feels great excitement for her future, another she is turned down and feels worthless, as if judged harshly by strangers. Learning and growing can be difficult, and many turns in life will be unpredictable, but surely I can’t be the only one ready for this ride to end.

From the ground I have watched this roller coaster many times, and such rides tend to end in the same way — with our children enrolling in a college they love. Yet we riders still scream, even feel real terror going down the hill as if the safety bars won’t help; normal reactions, if utterly irrational. I still love rollercoasters (Goliath is my favorite), and I think I will enjoy this ride. I have grown closer to my daughter, and we have all grown closer as a family. I have seen my younger daughter console her older sister. We all cherish the time that remains in this phase of our family life, while we avoid the question of how many more meals we will share together. There are many hugs, tears, pats on the back, and scoops of ice cream to soothe the pain, yet great hope for the future. Today I look forward to this ride finishing, but I imagine when it ends, just like Goliath, I will be excited to get back in line to ride again. I sure hope so, anyway: my youngest is counting on it.


Family Weekend

          This past weekend, USC hosted its annual Family Weekend to welcome parents and families of current students to campus. Guests were able to attend classes with their student, hear from President Nikias, cheer on the Trojan football team, and take part in many other events throughout the weekend.

One special program showcased a conversation with Gary Tuchman, a CNN National Correspondent. We are fortunate to have him provide his perspective on being a proud parent of two USC students as a guest blog contributor this week.  Keep reading to hear a USC parent’s perspective.

When my son Daniel started kindergarten, my third grade daughter Lindsay was thrilled. She was excited she and her brother would be going to school together. 13 years later, Daniel and Lindsay are experiencing deja vu; but this time at the University of Southern California. My daughter is a senior in Annenberg; my son is a freshman in the School of Cinematic Arts. They are happy to be in college with each other and my wife Kathy and I are delighted and proud to have two kids in the Trojan Family.

However, they are not the only ones in our house who are part of that Trojan Family. It has been made clear to us from the beginning that as parents we too are members of the family. The kindness, friendliness, and helpfulness we have experienced from people affiliated with the university has been wonderful.  Just this past weekend, we attended our fourth annual USC Family Weekend. It is great being with your children as we all experience the fun activities that are offered. But it’s also inspiring to experience the care and meticulousness that USC exhibits in putting the elaborate weekend together. It shows the respect the university has for its students and the parents of the students.

Our children are far from home. We live in Atlanta, Georgia; 2200 miles away. But we love to visit and know they’re in good hands when they are in LA.  After all, they are Trojans.

Trojan Family Weekend

This weekend is Trojan Family Weekend! Trojan Family Weekend is one of the most exciting, engaging, and long-standing traditions at USC. As you may have guessed, it is a weekend that brings parents, grandparents, and siblings to campus to experience some of the great things that USC offers our students on a daily basis.
The weekend begins on a Thursday with a few light activities. Families will have the opportunity to take self-guided tours of Heritage Hall as well as the Fisher Museum, attend classes with their students, and relax with evening socials.
On Friday, there are a number of lectures and presentations by our faculty and student resources staff. In addition, attendees will have the opportunity to hear from USC’s President Max Nikias, guest speaker Mark Hamill (yep, Luke Skywalker, himself), and Tim Gunn (of “Project Runway” fame) in Bovard Auditorium later in the evening. Friday also offers movie screenings, student theatrical performances, and concerts.
Saturday is game day at USC, and we have a special game for this year’s Family Weekend. Our Trojan Football team will take on sixth-ranked Stanford University at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Parents are welcome to attend the game after a day of brunches and tailgating on campus. The official Trojan Family tailgate offers all you can eat BBQ! Sunday offers many activities hosted by some of the religious organizations on campus, sororities, and a Tribute to Troy from our basketball teams.
As I mentioned, Trojan Family Weekend is designed to give our students’ relatives the chance to really engage themselves with USC and come together as one big, happy Trojan Family. It is a fun weekend and truly embodies the spirit of the Trojan Family.