Juniors, sophomores, and even freshmen are bombarded with messages about how tough it is to get into college, and many of these students spend their high school years struggling with anxiety and the pressure to be perfect.
When you have to worry about getting a “B” or even more unthinkable, a “C” on your report card, and fear that every moment you’re not engaged in some impressive extracurricular activity or contributing to the community is wasted time, that’s a tough way to go through life.
The risk of burnout is real. Students who are caught up in this race to achieve more and more often tell themselves this will pay off when they get to Yale, Columbia, UCLA or whatever school they see as the prize. But achieving the goal is no guarantee of happiness. After the initial rush of excitement, some students at elite schools experience an “Is that all there is?” reaction, because their expectations may be so high, and no college can make up for all they sacrificed in high school.
Then there are students who don’t even get accepted to the schools they worked so hard for, and they can be very upset, thinking it was all for nothing. This is why I encourage students to pursue activities they actually do enjoy, because forcing yourself to fit some image of the ideal applicant is not only unhealthy, it doesn’t work.
Short of moving to a less intense area, perhaps in North Dakota, it may not be possible to avoid college anxiety. But parents can provide a calm voice of reason that will help students keep the college admission process in perspective. Let your child know that his self-worth and your approval do not depend on what college he attends.
There are many routes to success, and sometimes the less obvious path is the better choice. Some aspiring pre-med students desperately want to attend Johns Hopkins University, thinking the school’s prestige is the ticket to medical school. What these students need to understand is that if they do get into Hopkins, they are in for four stressful years, where everyone else is just as driven and competitive, where classmates may not be willing to share notes, and where the competition for research opportunities makes it more difficult to develop collaborative relationships with professors. Still, for the right student, JHU can be a great school.
But less than twenty miles up the road, Goucher College also provides a terrific education. Students receive personal attention and support from professors and staff, and enjoy a collaborative atmosphere with peers. A student who gets excellent grades (which are necessary even for JHU students), does well on the Medical College Admission Test, has research/clinical experience and developed relationships with professors who can write strong recommendation letters will be in a strong position to apply to medical schools. In fact, in recent years, over 50% of Harvard Medical School students have come from non-Ivy League colleges.
The proverbial silver lining in the increasing competition for admission at the most selective colleges is that with so many excellent students no longer able to get into these schools, the quality of less competitive colleges has risen dramatically. There are many wonderful options. Focus on finding a school that offers the kind of educational and personal growth experience that will help your child have a successful college career.