So much of life boils down to choices as Poet Robert Frost so eloquently showed us in “The Road Not Taken.” When two roads diverge into a yellow wood, the one we pick will shape us and usually preclude ever coming back and picking the other.
When we make this choice for ourselves, we have enough life experience to know we can survive any selection we make. When we help our children make this choice, it can seem much more serious because we want to protect them from pain, discouragement and a path that will lead them astray.
Thus, it is no surprise when a parent feels extreme stress when faced with planning their child’s route through high school. Do we accept the rhetoric about everything our kid needs to succeed in college admissions such as crazy numbers of AP tests, a whole string of SAT subject tests, and making sure they are involved in research early so they can be sure to find the cure for cancer while they are at it?
Or do we take the road less traveled and allow them time to develop their creative side or pursue a business or something that interests them greatly?
Here are some things to think about as you stand at that crossroads.
- Following the checklist won’t guarantee that your child will make it into a highly selective school. Some colleges are now called lottery schools because they turn away hundreds of equally qualified kids every year. While certain kids should apply to these schools as part of their application plan, we consider them stretches for ANY student and hold them lightly. It is not wise to spend four years of a young life living in a way that is oppressive just to try to get into an impressive college. Some kids can handle the extreme load just fine and love the challenge. Most cannot.
- Following their heart, allowing our kids to spend the time pursuing the things they care deeply about just might be a healthier use of time in high school. They will never have more time to pursue those things they might not major in like art, theater, or creative writing. This is a chance to push hard and see if they have what it takes to make a career of it or decide to relegate the activity to a life-enriching avocation. The four years of college is too expensive to use that time to clarify this decision. Well-developed activities in high school can enrich a child’s college application and make them attractive to selective colleges, assuming they have a rigorous academic schedule as well.
- There is a third option that is not really a path. It is choosing not to take a path, but to merely exist. Wasting time in high school will not help our kids in any scenario. They are not pushing themselves academically to discover what they are made of or pushing themselves artistically to discover their gifts. They are in a hazy middle ground where they are not growing and developing like they could be. They are not discovering who they are and what they were created to do.
- If you have been reading my posts for very long, you know that I advocate a modified path, one that has rigorous academics (enough to challenge the student and force them to use their time well), a few tests (enough to satisfy the minimum requirements for the colleges on their list), and a high level of commitment to an activity or two in order to really make a contribution and change the student in the process. I will always come down on the side of plenty of rest, a healthy relationship with others, a proper diet, and protecting joy whether that is found in study or volunteering or skill development. How much time to give to academics and activities will be different for each student. When we find the balance that maximizes the student’s health and happiness, we need to move forward with that. However, we have to understand that we must be comfortable accepting the college that fits what they bring to the table. We must also realize that they would be a better fit at that college as well.
As we stand at the intersection, we know that either road has consequences. Choose carefully, then move forward with confidence!