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The College Application Nightmare


An estimated 20.5 million students attend college and enrollment rates have increased by approximately 20 percent between 2003 and 2013.1 Many parents are guilty of measuring success according to which universities have granted their offspring a ticket of acceptance. This can make the college planning and the application process a nightmare for high school juniors and their families. Adolescents need to be adolescents. Often the helicopter mom or dad needs to prepare for landing before they make their child crash.

Why do many parents take a vested interest in their child’s college resume? Is it a self centered, narcissistic extension of their personal ego? Do they need tangible evidence of their child’s accolades? Or is it because they associate a particular school with a high likelihood of professional success? Remember, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1973.

I’m not suggesting that college isn’t valuable –in fact, I find it invaluable for most. Rather, just because a child does not get accepted to or attend the university his or her parent wants them to attend, does not mean they are destined for failure. Many parents need to broaden their view of success and remember that “my child’s” application is not “our application,” “we” are not going to college.

An IRB approved research study published in 2015 assessed stress, depression and other variables (like substance use) in high school students attending private schools in the Northeastern United States.  26% of students met criteria for clinically significant depression. Stress was related to grades, schoolwork and the college admissions process.2

What is the solution? Adolescents and their parents need to modify their ideas of success. Success can’t be measured with black and white criteria (like acceptance or denial from a particular college). Rather, if parents view success on a continuum where one accomplishment paves the way for another, growth is encouraged. College–any college–is a stepping-stone. Embrace your child’s desire to attend and allow them to feel the autonomy and independence that will foster their personal desire to succeed.

  1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014(NCES 2016-006), Chapter 3.
  1. Leonard NR, Gwadz MV, Ritchie A, Linick JL, Cleland CM, Elliott L and Grethel M (2015) A multi-method exploratory study of stress, coping, and substance use among high school youth in private schools. Front. Psychol.6:1028. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01028.

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