A recent article from the New York Times explored the high levels of stress that high school students are experiencing. It seems that applying to college can be quite nerve-wracking.
With more students graduating from high school than ever before, with more kids aiming for college than ever before, and with more students taking AP courses than ever before, it’s no wonder that acceptance rates at many of the Ivy League and other selective schools were well under 10% this year.
Pediatricians are not worried about the future of these young people: they’re worried about their health–in the present. Here’s a snippet from the article:
“The college admissions process is an initiation rite into adulthood,” says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of books on teenage stress and resiliency for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “But if success is defined very narrowly, such as a fat envelope from a specific college, then many kids end up going through it and feeling like a failure.”
Students complain about lack of sleep, stomach pain and headaches, but doctors and educators also worry that stress tied to academic achievement can lead to depression, eating disorders and other mental health problems.
“There are some kids who can handle it,” says Denise Pope, a Stanford University education lecturer and author of “Doing School,” a book about stress and academics. “But some of these kids have had college on the brain since sixth or seventh grade or even earlier. When you have that kind of stress over that kind of time, that’s where it starts to worry us.”
How can a concerned parent help ensure that the application process does not result in forcing a student over the edge? (And how can parents keep their own sanity at the same time?)
The first thing is to realize that there is no single college that is nirvana. Students may develop their preferences, but it’s important in today’s competitive environment to help them see that there are likely several colleges that will meet their needs, will nurture their interests, and will fuel their aspirations. Kids who pin their every dream on one college can be setting themselves up for a big fall.
The second thing is to not telegraph that a student’s worth as a human being is in any way tied to the college they attend. You may have seen the statistics that indicate that the richest, most successful people in the US did not, by and large, attend elite universities. Rather they attended state and local institutions–include community colleges! A person’s worth is decided more by their actions and contributions, not by the name of an institution printed on a piece of paper.
Finally, many families find it enormously helpful to rely on a respected, ethical, and knowledgeable third party to help them through the process. An independent counselor can keep everyone’s expectations on an even keel, and can manage the process and help everyone stay on track.
The admissions process is mighty cumbersome, and students and parents alike can feel like fish out of water. However, with a reliable, relaxed, and guide, the process for you can be more like a refreshing swim in a slow, cool river.
Independent College Counselor
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