Just as I finished this post, I received an email from a high-end college admissions counseling site. I’ll protect their anonymity. As I scrolled through their website, I found this quote:
“But our mindset is always:
“how can we stack every possible advantage into your corner?”
This perfectly illustrates the problem with college admissions. These folks, for $1,000, will help you and your child “stack every advantage in your corner”. Is this who we want to be? “Stacking advantages” is not harmless. Inflating your child’s success literally knocks children with potentially more merit but less money out of consideration. This creates quite the winner-take-all, dystopian-Hunger Games vibe.
This creates quite the winner-take-all, dystopian-Hunger Games vibe.
Clearly, college admissions are more straightforward for some families than for others. And unfortunately, the process has little to do with merit. How can parents navigate this complex and often random process without maintaining or worsening its inherent unfairness? If your family has the advantages and the resources to create a positive outcome, how can you approach this process ethically?
1. Opt out of the SAT/ACT.
As discussed in this post, the SAT can be gamed, and scores correlate mostly to student affluence rather than to future success. (Hence renaming it the “Student Affluence Test”). Unless you have a compelling reason (and are there some), ditch the SAT and ACT.
Don’t give educational businesses more money for a product that does not even achieve what it claims. These businesses make billions by stoking our fear.
Share this information with your child and help them understand that “success” is complicated and nuanced. It’s unlikely to be accurately measured through a test score. Whether they score high or low – this score has little to do with their worth.
When we eliminate part of an application which gives our child unfair advantage, that is one step towards leveling the playing field.
2. Push back on Rankings and Focus on Fit
Rankings, like US News and World Report, are flawed. Read more here. However, the framework they create still orders our collective understanding of what make a “good” college.
What You Can Do:
Share this information with everyone, everywhere. Push back on the idea that if you go to the “best” college, your life will be better. This is demonstrably false.
Pushing back on misconceptions about “good” and “bad” schools can reduce parent and child anxiety around this topic.
Instead, focus on fit! To be clear, this is not my idea. Visit Challenge Success for more information and sign up for their workshop on fit.
3. Get off the crazy train
Put student well-being above traditional measures of success. As parents, guardians, educators, and people who care about children, we can do more than protect their mental health. We should prioritize it. In middle and high school, the lead up to college applications, assess the vibe of your child’s community.
Does your community:
Put weight on being academically “ahead” of their peers?
Emphasize all As?
Over-schedule children (extra math, violin, soccer, soccer clinic, volunteering, piano, language classes…)?
Lobby for children to take all classes deemed “high rigor”?
These ideas create a community "crazy train". Even when these attitudes do not reflect the majority viewpoint, they creep insidiously through students and families alike. It’s very easy to fall into the mindset of “You MUST get all As” or “You SHOULD take as many AP/IB courses as possible” (any time a sentence contains “should, must, ought” – be alert ).
These expectations put tons of pressure on high schoolers AND are clearly linked to greater mental health problems and higher incidences of substance abuse. Unfortunately, while straight As in high school have minimum impact of a child’s future, high levels of stress can have significant and long-lasting repercussions. Moreover, this is simply "stacking advantages" for our kids, at the expense of others.
If you are a parent in a community like this, I want you to know that *you do not have to play this game*. Where your child goes to college has little to do with their worth or their future success.