You’re Going to College. That’s Enough.

We just got done with college acceptance and rejections for our last child and are currently in the process of helping him weigh his options to make a final decision. We’ve gone through this with our daughter three years earlier, though this time around we completely missed out on the campus touring process thanks to COVID. That sucked because it is a special experience. If you are a parent of a college-bound kid, do the tours. Trust me.

We spend the entire first semester of this school year—which for our boy meant senior year at home to start—and let me tell you, I wanted to pull my hair out, so I can only sympathize with all the kids who have to navigate this on their own. To say we are a family who likes to work like an annoying team on the big things such as college is an understatement. Most evenings would find all four of us (older daughter was doing college online and was home with us), sitting with our respective laptops with Google Docs open to the essay at hand critiquing, suggesting, and rewriting, with the final decision of edits left to our son. He was annoyed, we got annoyed, it was a thing. Common App essays, program-specific essays, and all the checklists of portfolios, transcripts, and teacher recommendations that he had to juggle. It felt like insanity. And it left me thinking, this is freaking too much.

Early action decisions started flowing out in December/January/February—everything a bit off this year due to the pandemic. If you pay attention to YouTube or TikTok you might have seen videos of kids anxiously (some in tears from the pressure) logging on to the respective school portals and either screaming with the entire family or dissolving into tears.

As a parent, you tread the very thin line between acting like you aren’t phased either way and searching the heavens for exactly the right way to console and encourage your child. For a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds whose brains are still not fully developed, don’t you think this entire process is over the top?

Kids wanting an Ivy league or top-tier college experience have to hit the ground running from the first day of 9th grade, and for some schools, even in middle school. Every class counts, every activity counts, every extracurricular counts, every summer job, and even internship counts.

But what’s happened over the years is the emphasis has been taken off of getting a college education to getting a college education from the same top tier/Ivy campuses that the same gazillion children are all applying to. What has happened is that a student who gets straight As all four years, has a GPA well over 4, scores high on the SAT or ACT, and has activities and recommendations to boot, can and in many cases will, get shut out of the more famous universities. What else does a kid need to do? Cure cancer? Apparently, yes. That would help.

It’s all dumb. American society needs to flip the switch on thinking big-name schools are the only pathway to success. Let’s be real—a degree from them can certainly help—but there are tons of extremely successful professionals who have achieved what they have with degrees from schools no one has heard of or have even forgone college altogether (which I do not condone, but that’s another story).

Was it worth it for Aunt Becky to go to jail so her YouTuber daughters could fake their way in USC when as applicants they did not check all the boxes? That whole scandal shows you how low some parents will go to get their kids into the “right” school.

What many families fail to realize is that the right school for your child has more to do with the campus and programs being the right fit for the kid, not the big name on a diploma (or a grandparent’s bragging rights).

Education is important, period. Education from an accredited school with solid programs and strong faculty is very important. Those things do not only exist at a big-name school.

And I’m not even going to talk about the price tag here.

Wouldn’t it be great if in 20-30 years my grandkids were living less stressful lives because they could be assured a great college education would be theirs and it wouldn’t break them if that came from a place not too many people know? Shouldn’t the ultimate goal be higher education that works for the student (and the family paying for it)?

But for now, if there are college-bound kids in your world, cheer on their final decisions no matter where they are going. They’ve worked hard for 12+ years to get to this point. Their adult lives are about to start, and we, as those who love them, get to cheer them on every step of the way. And that’s the stuff of bells and whistles.

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash