What matters most for your child: prestige or experience?
I just returned from an annual academic conference that took place last week. As is always the case, the conference was great. It was good to see fellow colleagues from various academic disciplines as we discussed the current trends and issues that are facing academia. Given the fact that I also serve as an officer for the organization, I also was deeply engaged in business matters that affected the group and the larger membership as well.
During the conference, there were a number of people, primarily older Generation X’ers (my group), who were born in the late 1960s/early 1970s and who seemed to have students who were graduating from high school and entering college. They were discussing the unusually high level of trauma and anxiety both they and their children were going through as the college admission season was in full swing. One person informed me they had to go to the hospital for heart related stress. I was like WOW! Things are getting pretty HEAVY for some people!
Over the past few weeks, millions of anxiety ridden, adrenaline-filled high school seniors have been receiving those “my life hangs in the balance” envelopes from various colleges and universities they have applied to. Some will scream with joy when they read the words “welcome to (fill in name of school).” Others will experience considerable disappointment as they read the words “we regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you admission to the class of 2020.” Yes, for younger millennials (members of Generation Y,) this is the season of college acceptance or rejection letters. From this moment on, life will begin to move in a direction for many of them. Their performance in high school becomes virtually meaningless. Their postsecondary career has begun.
There is no doubt that this was one of the most competitive years in recent history to gain admittance into some of the nation’s most competitive institutions. To those young men and women who “hit the jackpot” so to speak, congratulations. Hopefully, their four years will be happy and productive ones. To those of who were not as fortunate, it is not the end of the world. This is where parents need to step in.
Indeed, the fact is that:
- There is no one pathway to success;
- A student’s first-choice school may not necessarily be the best one for them;
- Many people who eventually are successful often fail along the journey; and
- Things tend to have a way of working out.
There were possibly a number of reasons as to why your child was rejected by a particular institution. Their SAT or ACT scores were solid but not exceptional (trust me, test scores will not predict your future success). Their transcript was very good but not outstanding. Other reasons could apply. Working in an admissions office as a graduate student more than two decades ago afforded me the opportunity to hear stories from admissions officers. The admin offciers would tell me and fellow students what stood out about the applicants that led to the unpredictable decisions they often made. One student gaining admission was a first-rate violinist, another young lady grew up on a pig farm in Kansas, and a disabled student was an outstanding poet. Hearing such stories was revelatory in a number of ways.
In his national best-selling book Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be, op-ed columnist Frank Bruni of The New York Times makes a very convincing case that too many people far too often overemphasize prestige when choosing a college as if this is the only thing that matters. I would go further and say that not everyone is cut out for or even should pursue a traditional path toward earning a college degree. The old adage “no one size fits all” is certainly true in regards to higher education. Vocational education, apprenticeships and internships are just a few of paths that some students can, and in some cases, should pursue.
Look at some people who have been significant achievers in life and see where they attended college:
- Lyndon Johnson ― Southwest Texas Teachers College
- Mario Cuomo ― St. John’s University
- Oprah Winfrey ― Tennessee State University
- Bill Gates ― Did not complete college
Get my point? Johnson, Cuomo and Winfrey all attended respectable schools, but not necessarily elite institutions.
Those of us who are well into adulthood are well aware of the fact of the hard reality is that life is not going to always to deliver what you may want it to. You may not get that job or promotion you wanted. You may lose a dear friend or parent(s) to an untimely death. You may endure a bitter divorce. You may become afflicted with a disease that hinders you. These things happen. Sometimes bad luck and personal misfortune is out of our control. As someone who has endured some of these misfortunes at varied periods of my life, I can personally attest to this fact.
Granted, as someone who is not a parent, I will admit, that I have had direct experience with a 17, 18 or 19 year old young adult who is either highly disappointed or in some cases, outright devastated due to the fact that a goal that they had possibly worked so hard to achieve did not reach fruition. That being said, I can, however, attest to the fact that such an experience is just one of a number that many people will endure during their lifetime.
Parents, believe it or not, the fact is that dealing with adversity early in life can often be positive for some young people, including your own children, in the sense that it can often make a person stronger and more resilient as they get older. People who have been knocked down in life early on are often much better able to cope with the occasional roadblocks and curveballs that will undoubtedly come their way as they get older.
These are the sort of experiences that can make rejection from their first-choice school seem as trivial as drinking a glass of water. The reality is, for 90 percent of these young people, by early summer they will probably have moved on from whatever initial disappointment they initially harbored and, by fall, will very likely be happily nestled into the fabric of campus life at the school they ultimately decide to attend. Life will indeed go on. For the mothers and fathers who have children who are facing such as predicament, this would be sagacious advice to pass on.