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Redirecting the College Admissions Conversation

In light of the recent college admissions scandal, many have asked me if I was surprised by the parents who paid millions of dollars to get their children into some of the country’s most elite universities.

Sadly, I was not.

It might not be on that large of a scale, but as a college counselor, I see parents over-schedule and over-manage their children’s lives all the time.

It is natural for parents to have their children’s best interests at heart and to want to create opportunities that will help them succeed.  Unfortunately, when this is overdone, it sends the wrong message to our students and creates a generation of children who think they are not good enough.

Stress and anxiety levels are especially high around this time of the year as seniors are receiving admissions decisions from colleges.  In fact, just this last week, a handful of students told me that they are a disappointment to their parents because they did not get into their top-choice university. Some of them feel like this is the end of their lives as they know it.

It is important for those of us who are adults and who serve as parents, educators, and mentors to our students to redirect the conversation and reset the culture around higher education.

Here are some places I think we can start:

Where your children go to college does not define who they are or how good of a parent you are.

It is so easy for us to get caught up in the prestige and ranking of colleges. We treat the name brand of the college as a symbol of our social status. But this sends a distinct message to students who go to lesser known universities, one that says that they are not worth celebrating. So instead, let’s focus less on the name and more on the fit.  What’s truly important is that students find a place that best fits them academically, socially, financially, and spiritually, a place where they will grow and thrive.

Students do not have to do it all.

Parents often feel the need to schedule students for every extracurricular activity out there—athletics, performing arts, community service, mission trips, internships, etc. We are overcommitting our students at the expense of their sleep, health, and mental wellness.  Yes, it is important for students to do something constructive with their time, but the activities should be driven by the student’s interest level rather than the parent’s fear that the student is not doing enough.  If you ask admissions representatives from any elite college, they will tell you that they are not looking for students who are involved in 20 different activities.  Rather, they are looking for those who demonstrate long-lasting interest and leadership skills in just two or three things.

Students are not supposed to have their life figured out right now.

The expectation and demands from our culture make students feel like they have to have everything figured out right now. They start fretting about their major, their career, and their future income…when they’re only 16 years old! College is a time of self-exploration and growth. Universities expect students to change their major. In fact, “undecided” is the most popular major at any university. Colleges are not looking for the students who have the most defined plan. They are seeking candidates who have the ability to think critically and creatively and can embrace any change that comes along the way.

Finally, I would like to remind all of us that what we ultimately want is to raise God-loving, confident, and happy young adults.  This means we have to allow them the time and space to discover their passions. And yes, sometimes, this means giving them the chance to fail and learn from their mistakes.

The mission of Linfield Christian School goes far beyond grades and college acceptances. We want students to grow in knowledge and skill, but not simply because that makes them attractive to college admissions representatives. We believe each and every student has a unique God-given identity and destiny, and our ultimate goal, as parents, mentors, and educators, is to help them grow so that they can live into that calling, to confidently serve the Lord and others through their character and leadership.

If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, here are a couple links to articles that are worth your time:

Erica Shen
Director of College Counseling