Every year I work with over a hundred optimistic and frightened teenagers as they prepare for their college entrance exams and make plans to apply to the “college of their dreams.” These students often seem to feel the weight of the world on their shoulders and far too much pressure to get into a “good college.” I tell them to relax, I tell them not to worry, I reassure them that they will go to a “great college” for them. The longer I am in this profession the more saddened I become. I have watched kids wither under the pressure of their parents, teachers, school administrators, guidance counsellors, peers, and worst of all – themselves. Somewhere in America, we went deeply wrong, and our teenagers are now paying the price every day.
I have worked with thousands of students over my years: teaching high school and college classes, tutoring, and assisting with college planning. I have watched trends change and pressure increase. I have seen a huge spike in test anxiety, migraines, nervous breakdowns, suicide attempts, perfectionism, fear, underperformance, mental health issues, and broken family relationships. I know the college search is not the sole cause of all of these conditions, but I contend it is a contributing factor in many cases. Kids, of any generation, really do want to please their parents. Parents, of this generation, often seem to be WAY to invested in their children. Please take a deep breath and remind yourself there are over 2,000 four-year non-profit accredited universities and colleges! Your student can, and will, go to a great college. One of the biggest lies I see students, and their parents buy into is that prestige is everything. With the exception of a VERY small subset of careers, it really is not. What really matters is that you went to college and what you did there, not if you got into THE most selective school.
We need to take pause and realize the costs. We are starting to see a generation of kids giving up much of what they want in order to prepare for what the adults in their lives want. We are seeing a generation with the highest levels of anxiety, depression, and sadly suicide rates. No it is not all linked to testing and pressure for “the best” college but that is not helping things.
I want to leave you with hope and encouragement. It does not matter where your student is right now, there is a path for her moving forward. There is a great school for her to help her become the best version she can dream of herself. Just make sure before you invest more money than your house may have cost that you know why your student is going to a particular college. Make sure it is the right school, the right decision for them, and affordable for your family.
If I leave you with anything it is this – do what is right for your child and your family – not your kid’s school district, neighborhood, guidance counsellor, friend, co-worker, teammate, etc. In the end, you are paying the bill and they are spending the next four years of their life investing in their future – that should be all that matters.