There are many legends that parents hold dear when they are contemplating their child’s educational future. These stories comfort in unsure seasons and allow us to gloss over troubling aspects of our child’s profile. Here are a few that I deal with on a routine basis:
- If our child accomplishes the right scores on standardized testing, the dream school is within reach
- If our daughter has enough high-level math competition awards, colleges will be begging her to attend
- If our son wins the most prestigious national piano competitions, the college offers will come streaming in
- If our teen takes oodles of college classes in high school, they are assured a berth at a top-tier school
- If our student has enough volunteer service hours or pursues the perfect activities, colleges will ignore poor test scores
While it would make life easier if there were certain targets to work toward, the fact of the matter is that the college review is more of a holistic process, one that looks at our child through many lenses. Colleges want well-adjusted students who will contribute to their classes, their fellow students, and to the campus. They like to see a spark of original thought or a sparkle of humor. They are searching for multidimensional teens that are comfortable in their own skins. Let’s take another look at the list of legends and how colleges might look at a student who fits them:
- Top scores on standardized testing – If this is all the student brings to the table without evidence of a life beyond studying, colleges will be concerned that they are boring people who will lock themselves in the library. They will most likely not be a part of campus activities and make poor roommates. They could assume this is the type of kid who must have top scores in every class or they will have a meltdown, that they could be antagonists in class competition and not team players.
- High-level math competition awards – It takes more than a bright mind to do well in college and career. If our mathematician struggles to communicate in written or verbal formats, they will have trouble with personal interaction as well as college class assignments outside of STEM.
- Winner of prestigious national music competitions – this might be enough for some conservatories, but top-flight music schools have also realized that interesting people make better, happier musicians. They have begun looking for diversity within the life of gifted performers. If the student is applying to a traditional college, they also must perform well in classrooms and with their peers.
- College classes in high school – while definitely a transcript asset, like all things, college classes should be pursued in moderation. Students who make a wholesale move to a community college while still in high school often lack interesting high school activities and have already had the college experience. I’ve found that students are not as competitive for selective colleges if they have totally skipped the high school life.
- Mitigating poor test scores with volunteering or activities – Test scores are not everything. They are not predictive of success in life. But, they can somewhat predict academic success in college where students are constantly attending classes, taking tests, and having to perform under pressure. College is not a volunteering experience or a leadership experience in the main. Those things happen around the edges, but that is not the primary reason kids go to college. We must keep that in mind. Our goal should be for our kids to be successful in a college that is a good match, not strive for a college that moves quicker than our student’s academic skills allow.
I would encourage you to let go of the myths and embrace who and what your child is. We want to help them grow in all aspects of their life. We need to encourage them in the things they are good at and invite them to get better at the things that are difficult. Life will be better for the entire family if we do not hold on to specific college goals but have as our target the growth of maturity. We don’t want a checklist, but the joyful flowering of a human being. Letting go of the legends can allow us to joyfully welcome the reality of the child in front of us.