College Competition: Have We Gone Too Far?
Thalia Thompson, M.S., I.E.C., College Admissions Specialist - College Admissions Coaching, LLC
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College Competition: Have We Gone Too Far?

Cornell University, Ithaca, New YorkStudy hard. Get into a great college. Find a good job. Success and happiness will follow!
That's the credo that many parents and kids, whether high-achieving or not, have bought into. And so did I. Until I actually graduated and got my first full-time job! The job was highly-satisfying but very low-paying. So was the job that followed. And the one after that.....
The reality that I was fully responsible for finding my own happiness and sense of fulfillment had finally taken hold. I had been sold a bill of goods in believing that I was entitled to a great job and a great life by virtue of having attended and having been graduated from a great school. I was outraged!
It was not the the Ivy-league Bachelor's degree, swiftly followed by my Master's degree and internships that magically "opened doors". (Those achievements may, or may not, have helped.) I will never really know. The real "door-opener" was A LOT of hard work, perseverance, and a decent serving of luck.
I'm not minimizing the significance of acceptance into a good institution or the value of a solid education. I'm suggesting that in the push to get our kids "college ready", we may have veered off course and lost sight of the bigger picture.
In the newest documentary on the state of American public education, "The Race to Nowhere", parents in states of anxiety so astronomical as to bring them to tears are interviewed. So concerned are they about their children's chances of acceptance into prestigious institutions, that they have scheduled them to maximum capacity.
Kids are shown as having no time to enjoy their families and friends, to daydream, and to obtain critical sleep. The well-meaning, yet near-hysterical and misguided "adults" rearing them adds to the overall craziness. How can parents teach vital coping skills when they themselves are reduced to basket cases?
Children are carted to and from various activities and tutoring sessions. They then face long hours of homework geared to increasing their test scores which, it is hoped, will land them at "the right" institution of higher learning and put them on the Road to Success.
Yet, right in front of our ears, kids' cries for help go unheard as they are shuttled to psychiatrists and often medicated for anxiety and depression. It occurs to very few parents to loosen the tight rein, permit a lightening of their children's extracurricular load, and attend meaningfully to them! The fear is that in doing so, they will impede their children's chances of being competitive and successful. The irony is that these attitudes and actions are achieving the opposite of their intended goal.
While not all of you can relate to this hyper-competitive style of child-rearing, I'm pretty sure ALL of you can relate to wanting the very best for your children. That's very understandable. It's in the getting there that some of us part ways.
Books like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother make the rounds on the NY Times best-seller list, and the New York City Department of Education tests 12,000 pre-schoolers annually for entry into a public school Gifted Program to which only 300 will be accepted. So, from Test-Prep Centers for pre-schoolers to $14,000, 4-day College Admissions "Boot Camps" for teens, an entire cottage industry has blossomed to take advantage of the collective fears. Is it any wonder?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not against homework, testing, and a healthy dose of competition. I'm also not adverse to extra tutoring when needed, enthusiastic participation in activities of sincere interest to kids, or assistance with the often overwhelming college applications process! But, as with everything in life, balance is key.
There is so much more to our precious little time on Earth than getting into the "best college". We don't need reams of scientific data to illustrate that graduating from even the most revered institution with the most respectable credentials does not always correlate with personal, financial, or career success.
Imparting solid social skills, teaching kids to be respectful of themselves and others, how to cope with adversity and disappointment, how to manage stress and anxiety, and how to find meaning in life is more important than producing an ivy-league graduate. What is your definition of success? And do you think some of us may have gone a bit too far?
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