Best College = Best Job = Best life!
RIGHT? (errr... no)
“Do I have to go to the most competitive school I get into?” This question from my high school senior took me by surprise. “No – selectivity makes little difference for a child in your circumstances*. I hope you’ll evaluate your choices by fit – which school will give you a place where you can learn, have a community, and find ways to make the world a better place”.
Click here for TLDR and here for TSWM
This exchange highlights our privilege . Some people hate this word but just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not true. While I’ll never say that the college process is easy (hysterical laughter), we certainly have had an easier time than others. We have a solid plan for paying – this, due in part to “head start assets” (Shapiro, p. 62)** provided from her grandfather. This allowed my daughter to apply to colleges she really liked with less focus on receiving aid. Clearly, this is an enormous advantage - and many of her peers are similarly fortunate.
However, even though students in these communities have a serious layer of protection (privilege) heading into college applications, the general vibe is one intense competition. Students tease (mock?) those who applied to schools with higher acceptances rates .
One child I’m thinking of is very focused, identified their goals as a sophomore, and chose a school perfectly suited to them and to their future. That’s a recipe for success but not seen as such because going to the most competitive, most selective college is what you strive for. It doesn’t matter whether that school fits the child.
Does this matter?
I hear you asking, why does this even matter – if my kid does ok at that highly selective school – it shouldn’t make a difference, right? Well, unfortunately it does. First, kids in these communities are not ok. They are really, really not OK. And, no - for the love of all that's good - it’s not the pandemic! (though this certainly made the existing issue worse).
We have ton of data that shows that affluent students who go through middle and high school focused on maximizing their academic success (high GPA, high test scores, high “rigor”) are more likely to experience “elevated levels of maladjustment” (Luthar, Barkin, Crossman, 2013) such as increased substance abuse, higher levels of crime, cheating, and depression, anxiety and other mental health struggles including eating disorders, and cutting.
However, efforts to launch high schoolers into the most elite institutions doesn’t only impact our children. Our communities are interconnected and when we double down and pour resources into our children, we do so at the expense of other children. This is our privilege footprint, we opportunity hoard*** and reduce resources and opportunities for other children.
Take Action - Stop Playing the Game
This is actually a win-win-win-win – it’s good for everyone. If you live in a community like those described above – you do not have to play this game. Ease up on grades, test scores, and “the best college”. Your child will be healthier, happier, and ironically, more successful later in life. AND you’ll free up resources for kids who can really benefit.
* Who actually benefits from “elite” schools? Students from low-income backgrounds while students from middle- and high-income families do not. (Income Segregation and Intergenerational Mobility Across Colleges in the United States - link below)
**Head start assets are “resources that can put a family on an economic and social path beyond the means of their salaries” (Shapiro, p. 62)… for example, reducing the number of college loans a student will have as the enter adult – all the education, none of the cost.
*** Opportunity Hoarding is “helping our own children but hurt others by reducing their chances of securing those opportunities” (Reeves, p. 13). Ie. SAT prep course, Private college counselor, overriding a teacher recommendation regarding Honors class placement
TLDR - Too Long Didn't Read
Going to the “best school” doesn’t necessarily provide any benefit to middle- and upper-income students.
When we put resources into boosting our children up the ladder (for minimal gain) we hoard opportunities which other students could truly benefit from.
Solution – you can let go of these ideas. Your child will be OK.