Before we look at what goals do make sense with regard to college admission, I want to make a few things clear.
First, this program is in no way trying to deny that the most selective colleges are amazing places to spend 4-5 years.
All of them.
Brilliant professors. Beautiful, well-run campuses. Phenomenal resources. Diverse populations. Centuries of tradition. Important contributions to their communities, the nation and the world. Great research opportunities. There are many things to like.
If a student has a shot at admission to one or more of these excellent institutions that meet the criteria they’re looking for in a college, they should absolutely apply and feel ecstatic if they’re admitted.
But lots of other places are also amazing and will lead to equally successful, happy lives. The differences between the most selective schools and those often considered less desirable because they’re less selective are much smaller than many believe. Those differences are certainly not, in my opinion, worth risking your child’s—and your—mental and physical health.
Disappointment is natural if not admitted to a college one hopes for highly. Devastation is not.
Second, while I’ve chosen to address the Presentation to parents, I am by no means suggesting that they are the only–or even necessarily the primary–source of pressure on students to achieve. Many students and their peers put this pressure on themselves and each other, the school culture in many places exacerbates the problem, and society in general contributes in some ways, too. Parents, though, almost always know their kids better than anyone else and are thus in the best position to recognize issues with them and be able to address those issues, whether on their own or with the help of others.
The third important thing to know is that I realize not every student who is exhibiting symptoms of stress has academic performance or college admission as its source. Unfortunately, there are many things that can lead to struggles for all of us, and teens are no different.
However, I would strongly argue that if the source of chronic stress is not related to academics, then it’s all the more important not to risk exacerbating the situation by piling more demands and expectations on an already difficult situation. Especially if the symptoms are severe, it’s critical to focus on reducing the effects of any factors that may worsen the situation.
Fourth, I’m also absolutely not saying that everything is going to go perfectly for every student who tries to stop stressing out so much about college admission. While I’m confident that lowering stress levels with regard to college will lead to a significantly lower likelihood of mental and physical health issues and believe that it is well worth the effort, there are, as noted above, unfortunately many other things beyond college concerns that can make life difficult or painful for us.
Finally, a word to those who seek out admission to the most selective colleges in order to gain social status for themselves and their kids. It’s difficult to resist the siren call of lifetime bragging rights, the ability to insert the ‘my kid went to fill in your favorite extremely selective school‘ comment into conversations and car windows.
Please, though, read some of the many studies out there on chronic stress and be honest with yourself about whether you’re seeing the symptoms in your kids. Those occasional feelings of triumph at your kids’ accomplishments will be forever tainted if they’re accompanied by the knowledge of the cost to their mental or physical health exacted by their efforts to reach that level of attainment.