by Nancy Weinstein
For the hundreds of thousands of students that applied to selective colleges this year, the short-term goal was clear: Getting In. And while many of those students are actively rejoicing, many more are lamenting the thin envelope that came in the mail. Now what?!
According to personal accounts from concerned parents across the nation, unless your child is a recruited athlete, getting into a top college is a virtual crap-shoot. The perception is that too many qualified, legacy applicants means “safety school” is as anachronistic as the rotary telephone. And while the debate rages as to whether perception is reality in college admissions, the reality that stress levels have risen significantly among teens is indisputable.
As many of our nation’s best and brightest reacted to the disappointment that despite all their hard work and achievements, their standardized test scores or GPA were not quite high enough, they hadn’t taken a sufficient number of AP Classes, or they didn’t have quite enough breadth in their extra-curricular activities, perhaps it provides an opportunity to collectively ask ourselves the question, “What is the end goal?”
Parents will tell us what they really want is for their child to be happy. Realistically that’s shorthand for, “Go to a good college, have plenty of opportunities for a well-paid professional career and attain financial security that is at least equal to if not greater than how they were brought up.” We get it.
However, given the current reality, maybe it’s time for a new plan to attain the goal.
The expectations for perfection in the classroom, on the field, on the stage AND in the community are stealing our brightest students’ adolescence and creating stress to the point of illness. And while one could argue that sacrificing in childhood is worth the lifetime rewards, realistically, the risk-reward equation is no longer balanced because of the ever-declining likelihood that they will get in to their first choice schools.
So instead of curating your children to be the well-rounded, perfect students that admissions officers want them to be, consider cultivating their true adolescent interests and talents. Remember the end goal.
Ideally, undergraduate admissions officers will recognize and reward their adolescent passions. However, they (and you) will be able to accept the disappointment if the most desired thick envelope never arrives, because the long-term goal is in sight. Remind yourself that passion and determination are far greater indicators of success than the school on your child’s diploma. Their undergraduate institution, while an important way point, is only a stepping stone to a much bigger dream. (Though it might help to steer clear of Facebook while the hurt subsides.)
And lest you dismiss this as nostalgic idealism, data from the Brookings Institute fundamentally supports that it is the student, not the institution, that determines ultimate success.
Nancy Weinstein is an idealistic mother of two middle schoolers and a graduate of two “Top 100” institutions. She discovered her first career passion in her early forties and hopes her children find theirs much earlier in life.