College counselor calls character most important grade

You've survived middle-of-the-night feeding, teething, the first day of school, bar-bat mitzvahs, even adolescence. Just when you think you're done, parenting has one last insult.


There are 3,500 colleges and universities in the United States. There's could be 10 or even 20 that are right for your child, but which ones?

You're thinking Big Ten. Your kid has found a school so small it doesn't have an athletic program. You want a school you can visit easily. Your child has found some college in a town without an airport, in a state without direct flights.

You've put money away, but your profligate offspring wants a college that will eat up in one year what you've saved for four.

How can you get your child into the college of your? his? her? choice? What should be in the personal essay? What about college tours? Scholarships? Who works in college admissions offices anyway?

"This is one of the few times when decisions about your children are out of your hands," says Bonnie Goldman, founder of College Bound.

"Parents can't get in there and save their child and get them into the right school. It goes into anonymous hands. It's very scary to all parents, particularly to Jewish parents who are overly concerned about the welfare of their children."

And who should know that better than a Jewish mother?

Goldman founded College Bound 12 years ago to fill the void she saw in the public schools in college counseling.

Located at Crocker Middle School in Hillsborough, Goldman counsels students from all over the Bay Area and sometimes internationally.

College Bound covers everything from college admissions exam preparation courses (including donuts), through every aspect of the application process to bringing a box of candy to the teachers who write letters of recommendation. Goldman will even help figure out how to spend that all-important summer after junior year.

College counseling is only part of what Goldman does. She also helps families looking for the right preschool, graduate school and everything in between. Ideally, she likes to start meeting college-bound children in seventh or eighth grade in order to formulate a long-range plan.

Having survived her children's college- and graduate-school upheavals, Goldman understands the anxiety they evoke.

"College admission is like a game and you are told the rules when you're halfway through," says Goldman. "I try to simplify, demystify the process with a lot of reassuring, a lot of comforting, a lot of counseling."

But when panic sets in, parents hit the telephone and call Goldman whether it's 7 on a Sunday morning or 11 at night.

Goldman cautions parents not to rely on college memories to advise their children, because the only thing that may be the same at a university is the weather.

And today, college is "more competitive, more intense than it was when [parents] went."

It's not unusual for Goldman to see conflicts between what a child wants and what his or her parents have in mind.

"A child may not have the same ambitions as the parents," says Goldman, who honors what the child wants.

"I can be an objective outsider whom they can trust. Students are extremely open about who they are, what they want to do and their strengths and weaknesses."

Goldman also sees that there's more to life than getting into the best school.

"I would hope parents wouldn't be so bottom-line that they would only assess their child's progress through grades," says Goldman, who likens children to Pesach's Hillel sandwich: The matzah is the love and support that comes from family and friends and the filling is the experiences a child has in and out of the classroom.

Goldman tells how when her children received report cards, her husband, Mel, would ask where their grade for character was.

"Because that's the only grade in life that's important," says Goldman. "That's all part of the Jewish value system."

Born in San Francisco and a graduate of Lowell High School and Stanford, Goldman is the daughter of Stella and Bill Goldman, who were active in the Jewish community. Although they were far from wealthy, they emphasized tzedakah (doing good deeds).

Keeping with that tradition, Goldman donates all the money she earns through College Bound to various charities, including many local Jewish organizations. Helping fund summer in Israel scholarships is among her favorite causes.

"I think the trip to Israel for the confirmand can be more worthwhile and lasting than taking courses in summer school."

"It's a wonderful bonding experience as well as developing a feeling for Israel to see what a country has done that had nothing. "

Goldman also provides her services at low or no cost to students who can't afford full fare. Her goal is to spread the importance of education and lifelong learning.

"Hopefully I'm able to infuse the students I see with the desire to enjoy their studies, challenge themselves, the world around them, and find great satisfaction in the process as well as the result," says Goldman.