A Letter To Ivy Obsessed Parents: Part 1

Ivy league campusWould you like your child to go to Stanford?  Are you a Yale alum?  Do you know more about Harvard’s admissions stats than an ordinary working professional?  If so, I’d like to beg you to consider a few points.
I know these colleges are great, but the 10 or so “big name” colleges in the US are not the best colleges in America and they are certainly not the only colleges in America.  As a counselor and high school teacher for twenty years now, I’ve watched this sad scenario play out, and it is never pretty:
Parent went to Ivy school.  Parent tells kid how great Ivy school is.  Kid is smart.  Parent “encourages” kid to get straight A’s.  Kid gets straight A’s.  If kid gets a B, kid has a nervous breakdown.  Parent scours statistics and any sort of blogs describing the favored students who “get in” to these mystical institutions.  Parent “encourages” kid to start a non-profit in high school, to write a book, or to do scientific research at the local university in a lab. Kids live with stress and the implication that only admission into this school will be considered success.
I’ve seen this many times, and it makes me sad.  I’d just like to talk to these parents for a moment and, out of compassion for children, ask you to consider a few things:
There are many great colleges in the world
It’s so true!  All colleges offer study abroad, and most offer research opportunities.  Internships exist in every city, and colleges share library books so no volume should be out of reach.  Also consider the complete dearth of job openings for PhD’s, so virtually every college in America can boast experts on faculty because it is nearly impossible for academics to find jobs.
This is your student’s turn to go through life, not your repeat
This is worth repeating, and saying out loud.  You had your turn, so sit quietly in the back seat now and try not to be a backseat driver, and certainly don’t grab the wheel.  This is a really fun and exciting part of life for teens; it’s about dreaming and setting goals.  Don’t take that away from your student by implying where you want them to go.  This isn’t about you, so keep that in mind.
Kids deeply want to make you proud
Wow, any teacher can tell you this.  Kids care so much about what you think and they get so excited when they make you proud.  What they most want to hear is that you are proud of them and that you will be proud of them wherever they choose to go to college.
Kids internalize the slightest comment you make about any school
I see this all the time.  You barely mention the University of X over breakfast (likely because it was in the paper) and the kid assumes you won’t be proud unless they go there.  It’s very bizarre, but they take any hint of a school from you and interpret it as your ideal for them.  I don’t understand it but I see it so often that I have to mention it.  I always tell parents to be careful about what you say to the students about any college.  The kids will think you love that school!
It is MUCH more difficult to get into these schools today than it was when you went
These schools have acceptance rates of 5-10%.  Just because a student has a 4.0 and is class president does not mean in any way that they will get into an Ivy.  The kids know this because they see the Valedictorians rejected each year.  The kids have an accurate handle on the admissions chances and they may be disappointed by the news but they are very rarely surprised.  Parents are often surprised because they see only their one child, whom they think hangs the moon (which is as it should be!), but the reality is that your 4.0 class president is just not an academic standout in this day and age.  BUT, let your child be exactly who he or she is; let your child follow their own heart and have a positive high school experience, free from as much unnecessary stress as possible.
Keep an eye out later this week for 5 more things to keep in mind when your student is choosing a college!


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