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Harvard, Schmarvard: Why Getting Your Kids Into College Should Be the Least of Your Concerns

09/28/2014 08:54 pm ET | Updated Nov 28, 2014
  • Michelle Rose Gilman Founder, Fusion Academy and Learning Center, Founder, The Well-Heeled Warrior, Board of Directors of Rock to Recovery, Board of Directors The Invisible Disability Project

It's almost that time of year. I can feel it in the fall air and see it on the faces of parents and seniors everywhere. It's almost college application time and the race begins, as parents and kids vie for the chance to get into their first choice colleges.

For some parents, college acceptance approaches the culmination of every single parenting choice ever made. It can seem the ultimate goal, the ROI of parenthood, the final gold award and the epitome of a parenting job well done. It feels like the end game for every AP class, honors class, volunteer opportunity, and sports involvement that you required of your child. This college acceptance looms as the justification for the hours upon hours of helping with homework, rewriting their essays, doing most of their science fair projects since sixth grade, hiring the most expensive college counselor, and pushing, pushing, pushing your kids to get the A at any cost. "My child got into his first choice university" will be worn proudly and loudly as a testament to how well you have done as mom and dad.

I'm just being honest. I have been hacking into your lives for the past 25 years as a founder and head of school at a private school in California. If you are finding yourself already getting annoyed or a little angry with me, I ask you to hear me out. I was once where you are now, until my son decided on a much different path and forced me to rethink the whole process and what constituted my achievement as a parent. It was not college acceptance.

What I have found in my 25 years in education is that as parents we are almost forced into this artificial race upon birthing our children. We start with our best intentions, of course. We want the best preschool, the best teachers, the best summer camps. Slowly, without our being aware of it, we are competing with our neighbors, our friends, our families. What started out as just wanting the best for our children, suddenly morphs into my child needs to be the best.

So, what do we do as a result? We DO too much! And, we expect our kids to do too much. We start believing that we need to start the protracted process of getting our kids ready for college in elementary school. We begin having massive anxiety about college acceptance when our kids are in middle school. And by high school, oh boy, we get bat shit crazy! We lose our focus on our children and what's best for them and instead start seeing them as a reflection of us as parents. They must get into a great college or we have failed miserably at parenthood. What will our neighbors think? What will we say about our kids at dinner parties? Of course, we don't think we think these things, but I know they exist in some form in our heads! Our societal anxiety about this is, in my humble opinion, at an all-time high!

And it must stop.

We have strangled the creativity out of our children by forcing them to do things they may not want to do, but as good parents we have to check the box that reads competitive sports -- check! We have robbed them of their childhood so that we can feel good about their chances at college entrance. Many of our kids don't even know what it is they like to do because we have been telling them what to like for their whole lives. Our children are riddled with anxiety and we are medicating them more now than ever. Why are we doing this? So that they can get into college and be successful! Let me tell you something -- college acceptance does not make a person succeed, nor does it say one thing about your parenting.

You know what does speak volumes about your parenting? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your child have a compassionate soul?
  • Does your child have a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity?
  • Is your child resourceful and independent?
  • Is your child happy with who she is?
  • Can your child creatively problem-solve?
  • Is your child passionate about anything?
  • Can your child sit with himself and enjoy his own company?

We must stop the competitive, ridiculous, and oftentimes painful race to college. We must remember that our children come from us but are not a reflection of us. Together, we can stop this madness and allow our children to find their way in this world, prestigious college or not. By embracing what makes THEM happy, and by seeing them as the creative beings that they are, we can stop competing with each other as parents, and they can enjoy, flourish and even love this one life they have.

If you are still a little angry with me, the comment section is just below. Thank you for reading.

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The Happiest Colleges: Daily Beast Ranking 2013