Dear Class of 2018, We have Failed You

Dear Class of 2018,

We have failed you.  I’m embarrassed to be a part of this generation that has created an unattainable expectation for college acceptances.  Our system is flawed, and you are the unfortunate inheritors of this whacked out process we’ve created in the last few decades to get into college.  I’m so sorry that we have told you a 4.0 GPA isn’t good enough and that your hard work in high school means nothing.  Let me debunk that myth: a 4.0 GPA is beyond good enough and speaks volumes about your character and work ethic.  This admissions mania has planted the wrong message in the minds of those we want to lead our country in a few short years.  I want our future leaders to be raised up and empowered, not defeated, and discouraged. Instead of celebrating your incredible accomplishments, we have told you they are not enough.

My office has been buzzing for the past three or four weeks with dejected students who didn’t get into the colleges they had hoped.  I feel for them and I know their pain is real. While I thoroughly believe we land where we are meant to grow, it’s hard to tell that to an 18-year-old kid who feels like their dreams have been smashed and their hard work and grind was for waste. It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that everything happens for a reason when they feel rejected and discarded by a place they proudly sported a sweatshirt from.  It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that they should be proud because they did their best when they are being told their best wasn’t good enough.  It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that things will be okay when they feel hurt, unwanted, and snubbed by the school they dreamt would be their home for the next four years.  It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that the person matters more than the path when they have been told for so long to work towards getting into a “good college” if they are to be happy and successful.  We are sending a mixed message and the message couldn’t be any more wrong.

The daughter of one of our family’s best friends has over a 4.2 GPA. Not to mention she was in student government for three years, participated in athletics all four years and was the club president of a service organization on campus.  She got over a 1460 on her SAT (out of 1600) and killed the writing part of the SAT, scoring one-point shy of a perfect score.  She is one of the valedictorians of her academically competitive high school and was elected to Girl’s State the summer of her senior year.  She volunteers at community events and has a job on the weekends. She is political active, passionate about civil issues and an all around bad-ass chick.  And she was denied at UCLA and waitlisted at UC Berkeley.

I can’t wrap my brain around this. It makes no sense to me.

I get it—the world is competitive and I’m sure other students had higher GPA’s or test scores but give me a break.  She did beyond what was asked of her for four years and the message sent was “Sorry, not good enough”.  This amazing student is going to move mountains when she is older because she is well rounded and has a fervent desire to make positive changes in the world.  Any university would be lucky to have her as an alum because she will represent herself and her college to society in a manner that makes a difference. She is a game changer, an influencer, and a visionary into what will make the world a better place.  I hope she keeps her denial letter and one day when she is a US Senator, a Pulitzer Prize journalist or a Civil Rights Advocate she mails her letter back to UCLA and thanks them for reminding her that it’s not where you go that determines your success, it’s who you are.

I strongly believe at the start of their senior year in high school every student should read “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be… an Antidote to The College Admissions Mania” by Frank Bruni. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. So many ah-ha moments.  Bruni writes such a refreshing perspective on the college selection experience and the deeply flawed thought process that too many young people subscribe to: that they will have their future determined and their worth established by which schools say yes and which say no.  Bruni reminds and reinforces his readers that where you go isn’t who you’ll be.

One of the best examples in the book is about Condoleezza Rice, once the United States Secretary of State and now Professor at Stanford University who went to college at the University of Denver.  She talks about success not reflective of where you study but rather “that special combination of what you love and what you’re good at”.  She shares that great educations aren’t passive experiences, they are active ones.  How much you throw yourself into your college experience will pave the road to the opportunities that follow. Rice emphasizes that more than formal education, the relationships you make in college—especially with your professors– will help determine the trajectory of your life’s path.

So, there you have it—less about where, more about what really matters.  Over the past few years I’ve also learned the phrase “good college” is so subjective. Kids fret over the idea of going to a “good college” and parents put ungodly amounts of pressure on their young students to aim for a “good college”, as if that determines their fate in life. It’s the reason I see 13, 14 or 15-year-old students struggling with anxiety and panic attacks at a time in their lives when they should be having fun, going to school dances, and learning about the life skills it takes to be successful.  Not to mention, I know plenty of crazy successful people went to community college or who are plumbers, contractors, finish carpenters, web developers or electricians that went to a trade school and do what they love every day. Lucky them- that’s the true definition of success.

I went to a state university (gasp!) for my undergraduate studies and while you may not refer to it as an elite college or one of great prestige, I firmly believe it is a great college and prepared me to be successful in so many areas of my life.   I had incredible professors who cared about their students, professional mentors that inspired my learning and met the best friends I could ask for.  While none of us followed the same career path, each of us is successful in our own right. When speaking with my old chums, most of us look back on our college days as positive, valuable, and helpful in our life’s travel.

Getting into college isn’t the end of your journey, it is just the beginning.  If you were denied to a school you hoped to get into, it’s not the end of the world.  Please don’t take a denial as a personal refection of who you are or what you are accomplished.  You are more than a letter, a rating, or a standardized test score.  Lean into all you have done to get where you are and all that lies ahead that will help mold and shape the person you will become.  Work past your disappointment (it’s okay to feel it, just don’t dwell on it) and go do great things with your life.  Embrace the schools that embraced you.  There is not one perfect school, there are many. Be open to something different than you planned and you may be pleasantly surprised with your decision.  Getting into a selective school does not equal success.  Hard work, determination, discipline, and grit are so much more important to your future than what college you get into.

Class of 2018, you will do amazing things.  You are ready to launch into a world that is excited to welcome you.  I hope you learn from our mistakes and focus less on praise and more on passion.  Focus less on image and more on imagination. Focus less on status and more on satisfaction. Do what makes you happy and be proud of whatever the next step in your journey looks like.  Stay hungry, stay humble and have integrity. Now is the time to discover who you are and open a new and exciting chapter of your life.

Eyes forward. Mind focused.  Heart Ready. Onward!

119 thoughts on “Dear Class of 2018, We have Failed You

  • Kelly, thank you for this! I have a high school junior struggling with anxiety for similar reasons…It doesn’t just affect the high achievers. Amazing kiddos with 3.5 GPAs and 1250 test scores feel like complete failures before they’ve even applied. I’m grateful for your words.

    • I totally agree. If a kid takes a risk, tries a class and then it isn’t for them, and they get a B…it’s the end of the world! This system is broken and I don’t know what to do about it except try to guard my own kids’ hearts.

    • Excellent article. And this comment could not be more true. At what point did a 3.5 and a 1250 SAT score become something to be ashamed of or be considered a failure. And yet we know many high school students that have been made to feel this way.

      • Yes so much this! 3.5 and a 1250 . . . not bad at all! But that’s what our kiddos are being told. It makes me sick 🙁

    • You are so right AND YET look how you described the girl above:

      “The daughter of one of our family’s best friends has over a 4.2 GPA…student government for the years, athletics all four years…club president…1460 on her SAT (out of 1600) and killed the writing part of the SAT…”

      Your description of what she is as a person feeds directly into the system you rage against. This is what I find with almost all parents. Even while raging against the machine, they support it. We feed the monster every time we talk like this to our kids and about our kids.

      What we need to do is not list all the things that make them exceptional using the terminology the educational system has developed to classify our kids. I’d much rather wish we described all our kids–and saw them and encouraged in them–the other traits of curiosity, intelligence (of whatever shape it takes), their enthusiasm for learning or excitement in doing something. Once we move the focus to those things, our kids will be looking for futures based on that. Not all the numbers and titles. We’re not just failing our kids. We’re training them to follow the system.

      • Thanks, Aimee, my thoughts exactly.
        My oldest daughter graduated High School with 4.2 and high SAT/ACT scores. We put no pressure on her as to which schools to apply to. We just explained to her that we had enough money to put her through two years of a University of California campus. We explained that if she attended a community college, lived at home for 2 years, then went on to a UC campus she would graduate debt free. And that’s what she did! She even graduated a semester early, saving money for us to use on her two younger sisters’ education. She learned valuable lessons for her future…Humility, financial awareness, and patience. It’s not about where you go, it’s about what you take with you that determines future success.

        • What an awesome lesson you are teaching her! Kudos to you for not being too caught up in the craziness to make take path that’s right (and practical) for her

      • Yes! So much this! While reading this article, it felt much more for the disappointed parents of the student who didn’t get in than the students.

        Hard work, disciple, determination and grit….. Sounds like we’re still beating a wall with our heads. Success also comes from self care, gratitude, creating a life you love and life skills. I reject the idea that all things need to be a grind toward an end goal of success. I’ll be teaching my kids a more open view of living a successful life.

    • I graduated from high school 30 years ago. The kids with 3.5 GPAs and SAT scores like that were getting into the top schools. It makes me sad that kids who get those scores these days aren’t even labeled as high achievers. What are we doing to our kids?!

      • The world is getting smarter. People immigrate to the US for an education. The schools are slammed and those of us who were born and raised in the US, who have kids who were born and raised in the US, are seeing those kids get beat out by kids who have parents who immigrated here. Not too far away from American kids not being able to attend American schools. But hey… let’s leave those borders wide open. It’s good for America!

    • Great article! My daughter is a Junior at a hyper-competitive Silicon Valley high school. While sporting a 3.8 GPA and 1270 SAT, she feels less than. Her GPA puts her in the 30th percentile at her school. Fortunately she realized that balance is more important than entrance into those ‘good schools’ so continues her fun extracurriculars like guitar and horse riding lessons. However, she feels robbed of a high school experience since rarely can she find friends to go to football games or just hang out since they are all too busy striving to get into a ‘good’ university. I do hope this culture changes so kids can be kids again!

  • Thank you for this! Hopefully all the graduates will read it. Unfortunately there is so much pressure – academically, socially, etc. I tell my daughter that she just needs to do the BEST that she can do – she will find her way.

    • That’s the best advice you can give your daughter. So many people have the misbelief that admission is purely based on grades and test scores, when in reality, it’s the personal statement that has the biggest impact. The majority of students applying to these colleges have high test scores and GPAs, so you are just one in a million, but what sets you apart is your personal statement. Your personal statement is your one moment to shine. I was excepted into UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, and UC San Diego, and ultimately chose UC Berkeley because it was the best fit for me. During my time at UC Berkeley, I volunteered to be part of the welcoming committee for new students, which is where I met an admissions officer/application reader who explained what I just told you. Best of luck to your daughter.

  • I Loved this. Being products of the East Coast college system, Bryan and I have always thought the West was more sensible. We hope that our kids don’t choose to go where we went, who needs that pressure and as parents, who needs that cost? And as for the young woman you referenced, she will undoubtedly move mountains!!

  • Another very relatable column. This one hits especially close to home…your words were the talk of our home last night. Thank you for the much needed reminder that these kids are so much more than what college they attend. ❤️

  • Thank you . I have a junior with a different problem . He’s basically given up. When he was in elementary school, he got mostly A’s and B’s and was in the gifted and talented program. Now , he’s failing 3 classes.He’s so smart- amazing with computers, enjoys music, follows political news, and loves to read His science grades are good too . Somewhere along the line, someone told him he was stupid, so he doesn’t think he can do it. We’re at our wits end with him. I’m hoping he can get into community college.

    • My son is very similar. My advice is to get him through senior year taking only what he has to take to graduate and trying a class or two that will be fun. At community college, let him take classes that interest him. Ones that help him find his passion and that he can do well in. Don’t have him take all General Ed classes. For my son those were more of the same classes that made him hate school in fine first place. This next step has to be positive and help foster a love of learning and feeling of success.

      • Exactly what we did with our son. He made it out of high school with a 3.0 by the skin of his teeth with two D’s in core courses. We were thrilled!! He is finishing his first year at an out of state State college where he registered as undecided. He was placed by his advisor in classes of interest plus his English requirements. He soared! Yes he will tackle math soon enough but he knows he can do it. He is transferring to one of his choice colleges next fall for the right reason, they have a specific program he now knows he wants to explore. Whew, what a change from that ninth grader who felt like a complete failure. It didn’t come from us his parents, it came from the other kids comparing themselves and pointing fingers and the school administration who constantly praised the high achievers in printed articles, school assemblies and emails as well as on the school website. It was all very sad and frustrating. So glad to have him away from that.

    • Give him time. Assure him answers will come. To expect everyone to enjoy school, get good grades and be an achiever that makes adults feel good is unrealistic. Focus on what he is showing himself and you what he loves and what he will naturally be good at in life.
      To expect our young people to be good at everything is a misnomer. School is a place where they can try things out to find out what they enjoy, are good at and can lead to exploring other paths. Get through what isn’t fun and enjoy the daylights out of the classes that are fun. He hasn’t given up on himself, he may have given up on a system that does not work for him. There is a whole big world of classes and learning to be had encourage him to explore options. Schools today are failing our kids. Kids aren’t failing in school.

    • Joanne, have you looked into your son finishing online? If he loves computers, it could be a game changer. I have 3 boys. One finished school traditionally, second finished Senior year on line (and made his best grades of HS, once online. He also didn’t fit in at the HS) He’s a software engineer now and my third is getting his GED. Yes, I said G.E.D. He abhores school, but loves to work (is saving money) and plans to go to a technical school in the fall, to work with horses, which might lead to going to an agricultural college. He no more wants a desk job than fly to the moon. Just some food for thought. Some kids just need to finish this chapter, period. Then they can figure out their next step. Good luck, Mama, we’ve been through it and I really understand. I never knew I’d be excited about my son getting his GED, but I am and he’s happy and thriving in his life and THAT is what’s important to my husband and I. It’s hard. Keep talking and loving him, they are carrying so much stress we don’t even realize, especially when they are driving us nuts.

    • I was similar, but not defeated, I went to a State University. Got my 4 year degree worked white collar for 8+ years.
      I’m now a carpenter and finally happy, I enjoy my work and am in demand. My grades in high school AND college have no bearing in my life….at all.

    • I had one over achiever and two kids who did not perform as well in high school. The over achiever had gone to a private school and compared herself to wealthy friends whose parents paid for private SAT tutors. She still got into UCLA thanks to theater activities she had done on her own. The two younger ones didn’t try very hard in high school – again, they are often competing with kids who have private tutors. They admit they were lazy but they also thoroughly enjoyed Choir and theater. My son was 18 and walked into a pet store and got a job just by asking. He obviously learned social and communication skills. The two younger ones went to community college and then into UC Berkeley and UC Davis. No SAT to worry about and they get the chance to figure things out without spending a fortune. The UC Berkeley grad is now in Scotland pursuing a masters. Personally, my greatest fear was to be the clueless parent of a depressed or suicidal kid. If your kids aren’t doing drugs and don’t have health problems – celebrate that! We’re the lucky ones. They have a lifetime to figure out their careers. Think of how many people change careers during their lives. Having a big house and car doesn’t make you happy. Just my 2 cents

    • Joanne, your son can go to community college and beyond without trouble. Sounds like a great kid who needs to re-discover his confidence. Good luck to him.

  • Thank you for your insightful words. My son who received a 36 on his ACT, Valedictorian, National Merit Finalist, varsity athlete all four years and did a lot of worthwhile community service project was waitlisted from 4 Ivyies and rejected from one. Honestly he couldn’t have done more. And your right it is so hard for an 18 year to have any perspective on the long term. Social media also makes it so much harder for our kids. We are so proud of who he is and who he is becoming. It is so sad for him not to rejoicing in his successes right now. But my husband and I are so excited for his college choice we just can’t wait for him to see he will be in a better place.

    • A college consultant told me that 85% of the kids who apply to the Ivies have those same statistics. They all QUALIFY, but they don’t have space for them all, so it basically becomes a lottery. If you can find a way to stand out, you have a slightly higher chance of getting in. The common app and influx of international applications has made it even harder to secure a spot than it had been even 5 years ago. It all seems really unfair to our kids, but until universities state more specifically what they’re looking for, or only allow kids to apply to a set number of schools, this is not going away any time soon.

    • I have a son similar to yours. Top 10 in his class, 4.3 GPA, 8 AP classes, president of financial markets club, model un 4 years, varsity baseball, tutors underprivileged students, 34 ACT only wanted business programs. And was more than qualified for one of the best undergraduate business programs out there and was rejected on Friday. It makes no sense.

        • Actually, I think it’s the opposite. State schools get more money from out of state students, so in many cases for highly competitive state school, someone applying out of state has a better chance (and less competition to get in) than in-state applicants do. And the private schools try to round out their diversity so it may be easier for kids from other states to get into school than those from the state it’s in.

  • I can’t thank you enough for writing this article. Lots of tears at our house the last few weeks. After 2 years of hard work at the local JC and graduating with 3- AA’s, in May, My heart broke for my daughter who didn’t get into her dream school.

    Then one Day my 19 1/2 year old simple said” it’s ok, momma, that wasn’t my path”.

    She has 3 choices and will need to make a decision this week. I’m excited for her and know that whichever school she choices will be perfect for her.

  • Kelly, this truly an amazing article. I wish I could have read this article this time class year. I would share this strong encouragement article to our class of 2018 twins and their friends. This would surely help to ease up some of the disappointed moments over this past holiday season when our daughter best friends got declined form their first choice of colleges. I have known these girls from first day in kindergarten. They are truly amazing and very driven girls. They were upset when they got the news, the news basically ruined their Holidays, but I am glad that they are strong headed and move on with their second choice of college. But as a mother of class 2018, deep down inside me, I sympathized your thoughts about the whole college application process. It’s surely sending the wrong message to our children generations.
    The message that I told my twins from day one when they started their college application package, be realistic, know your capabilities, understand your financial situation. To me it’s not matter about the college name, it’s matter if you finish 4 years of college and able to get your “dreamed” job and not having a huge debt.
    Again thank you for this very informative article, I am so excited sharing it to my family and friends.

  • Thank you for this article. It brought tears to my eyes as it certainly rings true in our lives. I too read Frank Bruni’s book at the beginning of my daughter’s senior year and found it invaluable. I try to keep it’s message in my mind when my daughter is rejected or waitlisted at most of her schools. She is truly at the top of her game and we don’t know what else she could have done to change the outcome. So, we are looking ahead to other possibilities that may open up new worlds to her. We know she will find success, as will the thousands of other students who were told, “no, you are not enough” from their college choices. And, without a doubt, they will be better people for it. Good luck class of 2018!

  • We went through this journey last year and when describing your friend’s daughter it sounded like you were describing ours. She wanted UCSB and while we were very careful about giving her false hope we felt with her “resume of ridiculous rigor and accomplishments” it was an attainable goal. WRONG. Waitlisted. She was fortunate to receive other great options but I felt guilty. I replayed the numerous times I would say good night to her, leaving our 16 year old daughter sitting at the table at 11:00 at night to grind away towards her “dream”, trying to balance talking her down with not standing in her way. I was relieved and a little proud when she looked at her computer generated Waitlist response and told it to F*** Off. No tears, no drama. She forged ahead deciding between her real possibilities and today can not imagine being anywhere other than the school she is at. Our 8th grader is up next and while I feel Groundhogs Day ahead of me for the next 4 years, our family, including our 8th grader has a much more realistic idea of what is ahead. How grateful I am that our Guinea Pig handled her college acceptance (and denial season) with such grace (minus the warranted F bomb she aimed & dropped at the aforementioned UC) 😉

  • Awesome article, I agree 100%!
    Our son is a awesome student, athlete, musician and an active volunteer went through this very disappointing rejection process. The question on our minds was, if colleges don’t accept kids like him, whom do they accept?
    Our son already moved forward and excited about the school he is going to.
    And when he receives a Nobel prize for his accomplishments, he should mention the schools that thought he was not good enough.

  • They may not be accepting all applicants but just as many are getting in as before, of course. These top schools want compelling stories—not just 4.0 GPA, academic awards, service and sports. That’s common now and they aren’t standing out with those achievements. Look how many parents are listing off the same accomplishments. Top schools want to see an X factor that makes the applicant unique and enhances the diversity of their student body. Let’s not forget they are also competing with the many highly impressive international students who graduate with an IB diploma and a 4.0 GPA (the gold standard in secondary education in which the higher learning classes are even more rigorous than AP classes) who aim for top tier schools.

    • Agreed Jenna. I see two big differences from when we parents were applying to college: 1) the enormous influx of Southeast Asian applicants (who may or may not have gone to US high schools — many Chinese move to my town for 4 years to send their kids to the local public and private high schools) and the fact that colleges no longer want well-rounded students, but rather, the trumpet player they need for the orchestra or the Latin student who’ll make a difference in that particular department.

  • “Hard work, determination, discipline, and grit are so much more important to your future than what college you get into.” – Well said. It’s really what you do with what you get into, is what decides the future roadmap for everyone.

    Just went through this ordeal myself for my oldest. Learned so much about the process and how it works (I did not go to school in the USA). For example, I am going to discourage my second one from taking AP classes just to improve overall GPA or because her peers are taking those 🙂

    I do think that as parents and the family we also need to embody many of these principles/core values (as articulated by the author above) in how we encourage our kids/students while taking courses/risks, extracurricular activities during highschool.

    I would highly recommend a book by Cal Newport for every student entering high school (How to become a straight A student …. unconventional strategies ….while studying less). Book does not profess that students should achieve grade A, but it does talk about strategies students can use to understand what makes them happy, how to discover their passion, and why managing time is important etc… good strategy book (for example, author talks about not taking too many AP’s to create room to explore topics of passion etc…)

  • Grade inflation means that colleges don’t know what a 4.2 means anymore. The common app means the number of applications has grown exponentially. Admissions officers are under immense pressure to churn through applications. Applying to schools like UCLA is like buying a lottery ticket. Not being accepted means nothing about the applicant.

    I went to an Ivy, coming from a New England boarding school, where (in those days) the college counselor could pick up the phone and call an admissions officer for a student. I enjoyed college, but I don’t know that it was the right school for me. I would have been just fine (and spent less money) at a state school. I kept that in mind for my daughters. I DO think that considering the job market for a student’s area of study is a wise idea. With a degree in history, I was virtually compelled to go to law school.

  • Our fourth child will be graduating this June in the state of California. Four times the stress and anxiety despite our children all having strong applications. While I understand the schools are looking for that X-factor, what I am not hearing is the complaint that CA continues to pull largely from the out-of-state applicants because they are not getting the money they want from Sacramento. Not right in my opinion. Our eldest graduated from UCLA recently and she had noticed that many out-of -state classmates were admitted with significantly lower GPAs and test scores. Smart, great kids of course, but having an x-factor? A unique background? Not so much. What they offered was twice the tuition. With new buildings always going up on campuses, Admissions appears to also regard the extra tuition they can bring in. Until CA residents and tax payers demand a policy like Texans, with far fewer out-of-state students admitted to their universities, it will continue to become harder and harder for our kids to stay in-state.

    • UC schools do limit the number of out-of-state applicants they enroll. They just lowered it in 2018 to only 18%.

    • This is true in Florida too. I went to UF and there was just an article in the Palm Beach Post about how the top kids in the state are finding it hard to get in with credentials like the ones listed above. Kids with 4.2 GPA, captain of swim team, student government, 1500 SAT etc rejected. Yet I know several kids with less impressive academic records from out of state who were accepted. It’s definitely about the money. And as more and more kids aspire to college, there is of course more competitive. The number of open spots hasn’t changed at many schools in decades. But the number of applicants have doubled or tripled. I’d be curious to know what the state schools have as their ratio of in-state vs out of state application and how it compares to 20 or 30 years ago. Florida also has an academic scholars fund so qualified students don’t pay any tuition. That makes it even more competitive at the state’s top school as all the best students will apply there first and the state gets NO money then so they have an incentive to take more students from out of state.

  • Hello Kelly,
    I enjoyed reading this piece. I agree with you on several points. Specifically, the daughter of you family’s best friends will likely accomplish great things. Also, from personal expereince I can attest to the idea that “Where you go is not who you will be.”

    However, I think there is another point you could have discussed, which is the fact that although effort is important, and a precursor to success, it does not gauruntee we will achieve our goals, at least not initially. In addition to Bruni’s book I would recommend your readers peruse Mindset by Carol Dweck and Grit by Angela Duckworh. From these researchers and authors we learn about power of effort, persistence and passion. As an educator and a father of four, I have always preached effort, but I have never emphasized the outcome. Whether it be athletics or academics, I believe it is about the process and the journey. It is about passion and perseverance. It is not about a specific college or university.

    As read your entry, I wondered what role parents play in this process. Two of my sons have graduated college, the third is in his freshman year, and the fourth will begin college in September. Throughout the process my wife and I have preached effort, while at the same time teaching them failure is neither fatal nor final. Life is not about where you are, it is about what direction you are headed. Rejection from a particular college need not be demorilaizing or a crushing blow if the student has been taught how to be resilient, how to persevere, how to have a growth mindset.

    Many times the college acceptance is important because parents want the exciting window sticker on their car. Instead of focusing on which college rejected you, it would be better to teach our children that life is not without challenges and setbacks, and that success is not linear.

    Thank you,

  • Yep, yep, yep. Living your column right now. My daughter is everything outlined and the denials she received, some she shook off as, others hurt, but the waitlisted ones sent her into a tailspin. She’s come through the other side – for the most part – and is super excited for orientation at the college that wanted her from the start. She will change the world in her own way and I’m excited to see it.

  • The truth is, a 4.0 IS good enough at 100s of colleges! They just aren’t the flashy brand name ones that everyone has heard of. We live in California and yes getting into one of the top UC’s is nearly impossible. Try finding a small private college with a big fat endowment. Also, many kids achieve their UC goal by going to community college first and then transferring. You also save a lot of money that way. If your kids have that much drive and self motivation to get a 4.0 they will be successful wherever they go and whatever they do afterwards.

    • Absolutely true. Actually 1000’s of colleges out there. Some small privates kick down very good financial aid making it on par with an in state school. And absolutely true about community colleges. They are the unsung heros. You’d be surprised how fast 2 years go by.

  • Colleges care tremendously about their yield — the number of accepted students who actually choose to go. It is possible that your friend’s daughter was TOO good a candidate for UCLA and that they turned her down because they assumed that, with her outstanding GPA and extracurriculars, she was more likely to attend a better school. I’m assuming she did reach higher than these UC schools? One other point: state schools, more than private schools, value high standardized test scores. The 1460 may have been a little low. My bet is that she gets in off the waitlist at Berkeley, particularly if your article gets a lot of attention.

  • This is a great article, but, what is the cause of the issue? Should that cause be addressed instead of just accepting it?

  • Michelle, we are experiencing this now with our senior. We actually tried out of state schools that were ridiculously out of our range. It may look like my husband and I are making alot of money on paper , but schools do not factor in the cost of living in the Bay Area. $3800 a month for 4 years is not something we can afford.

    Regarding the CA colleges, my daughter was accepted to SF State. That is all good and well, but, they allow so many international students and out of state students, the CA students are challenged with getting the required classes needed. After years of paying CA taxes, we get nothing in return. BTW, my daughter does not want to go to SF State because it is dirty and unsafe.

    • SF State is a fantastic choice. Its not anymore dirty and unsafe than any other college. My daughter and nephews went there and graduated in 4 years with great job offers as it is in the heart of one of the greatest and thriving cities in the world. I suggest a second more open minded look.

  • I graduated High School in 1964. All my friends went to whatever college they applied to. There is nothing wrong with our current graduating students! The problem is there are only a few more colleges in California to attend now than when I attended San Jose State and became a teacher. The population of California in 1964 was 16 million and our current population is 39 million, which is more than double the population of 1964. That is not the case for colleges. We have not doubled the number of four year colleges but only added a few new colleges, including community colleges. Our legislators, and we voters, need to wake up and spend our tax dollars in ways that will educate future generations. Go Class of 2018! You have not failed one bit, it is we who have failed to prepare for you!

    • Yes, exactly!!! Our state has failed our students by not providing more colleges and universities in the face of exploding population.

  • I have enjoyed reading the article and all of the great comments. I agree with many of you that it is too difficult to get into California colleges. I had always expected to go to college from any early age. When I was a Junior in high school my parents took my around to a number of different universities. I looked at UC Berkley but, there were many riots and demonstrations at that time.(@1968) And we looked at UCSB but it didn’t look great with the tar-stained beaches.So ,I decided to try for UC Davis because I fell in love with the campus. The acceptance letter was “conditional” that I had to get A’s my second semester. So, at that time I did get in with a B+ average. It was a wonderful growing experience that I will always cherish.
    Knowing this and helping my son apply for colleges, I realize that I was lucky that the tuition was affordable and it was probably easier to get in. I do think the grade requirements are much stiffer now and the test scores have become all important. I do think that the colleges take many out- of -state students because they get more money. I hope we can change that .After all we do pay taxes in California, it should count for something! So, I have always encouraged my son to go to college and he has applied to schools the past couple of years. Instead of going to a State University he has gone to Community Colleges and done well. He has also worked at the same time as he is a very determined young man. Long story short, he is now going to SF State in Engineering and doing quite well.Sometimes ,as parents we have to back off and let them decide that college is right for them .(By the way, SFSU is not dirty or unsafe.)
    Being an elementary teacher for 35 years showed me that parents can instill impossible standards on their children. Even in 3rd grade there were many parents who got upset with their children when they received a lower test score. I had parents come in and beg me to change the grade. We did not even have A,B,C grades in 3rd grade. We only had O, S and N! There was a big change in attitudes when we started the Standardized Testing. A lot of art projects and creativity went out the window. It became all about the TESTS.
    So, I think we really need to think what we want for our children in the future. And we need to let our representatives know how we feel.

    • Vivian — would love to chat w/you re SF State engineering. My daughter is a HS sophomore — not straight As but an exceptionally hard worker who is aiming for other (faraway) schools but has SF State among the mix. Happy to chat offline!

  • It seems like a perfect storm. Colleges boost their rankings by sending a ton of rejection letters (“Economic Facts and Fallacies” Thomas Sowell). Parents hoping boost their childs chances for success are telling them what classes to take, which clubs to join, which colleges are best, and filling out the forms and writing admission letters for them (“How To Raise An Adult” Julie Lythcott-Haims). Instead of giving the choices and responsibility to the children and letting them develop self-reliance and intrinsic motivation (“The Gift of Failure” Jessica Lahey). The kids’ path to adulthood is a lesson in the Fixed Mindset (“Mindset” Carrol Dweck). And in a time with rising college prices, student loan debt, and campus-wide depression.

  • Yes, we are living this unfortunate situation today as well. My daughter had a 1570 SAT, 3.8 GPA at a highly competitive high school, year-round volunteer work and is a debate team exec. She was denied from her top 5 choices (none of which were Ivy league) and we couldn’t understand it. She recently accepted admission to a state school which was a “safety”, and this university has rewarded her for her hard work with entry in the Honors and Scholars programs and freshman computer science research. I am very grateful for their encouraging and invigorating opportunities that will continue to grow her love of learning and provide challenging work. I am excited for her to be a positive contributor to their community– one that recognizes her talents and potential. I have come to the realization that perhaps those other 5 schools aren’t the right fit for her after all. She is a big reader and I will buy her Frank Bruni’s book– thank you.

  • I think there are three issues in your analysis. The first – the pressure comes from the students not their parents. This race is all about peer relationships and standing. Second – these kids who got the 4.0’s, they are nerds in the happiest sense. They want to go to nerd paradise. And, while they may get into Tulane, USC or Michigan, those schools are not known as a paradise for nerdy kids. They are great places, but they don’t value intellectual curiosity above all else. The real truth is – neither do the top tier schools. Third: The top tier tyranny is just so terrible because these nerdy kids think they care about intellectual curiosity – rather, they are recruiting for diversity, for vibrant sports culture, for some seemingly unbelievable story (these are usually phony, but admissions counselors are easy to con). Top tier schools are conning the market – and it’s driven by the Newsweek rankings.

    The real challenge is not to not care about where you go – but to know that there will be an intellectually vibrant community that is valued where you go – and that the perfect community of uber stars at those top tier schools is just a marketing ploy – it’s not real. I can tell a million stories about kids who have cheated the system – alleged minority status when they don’t really qualify, have extra time when they don’t really have learning challenges any more than every test anxious student, created fake stories about themselves that don’t reveal their passions or their actions – and guess what – all of these kids are getting in. The honest smart kids feel robbed on two levels – they have to go to schools where nerds are not celebrated, and they know that their peers are gaming the system.

    Students are not stupid. We have to ask top tier schools to lay down their weapons. Stop whoring their yield rates and test scores for US News ranking status; go off the common app; make tests irrelevant or ask that extra time be revealed; do a little digging about kids’ grandiose stories of success; ask kids to prove minority or special group status. We are as a society telling kids that Trump is right – it’s all about cheating your way into an exclusive group. Colleges and Universities are leading the way to a cultural implosion that erodes integrity, intellectual curiosity and leadership for our future. Bravo.

  • She probably got amazing offers from really, really good schools instead. And the school she picks is probably an excellent choice. Can’t say I feel too bad for the rejection.

  • I believe that the reason these kids who have worked so hard and done so well are not getting into the college of their dreams is not because they are not good enough, its because they are too good. I know that many colleges are not admitting based on merit but rather they are admitting based on who is less fortunate, who needs more help, who deserves a chance. This was illustrated to me in person last week when I attended at college fair and case study night at our HS. Parents were broken up into groups to work with actual admissions counselors on an exercise to work through 4 college applications and determine which student would be admitted to a fictitious college. After completing this exercise we ask the 3 counselors who they would have admitted and they chose the person with the worst grades. I asked why and they said because she was a first generation child of immigrant parents, had to work a paying job (they root for a kid who has to work in high school – internships don’t count) and did a lot of volunteering, they liked her…they felt for her. Her grades and scores were low but she came from a low performing middle school and was at a rigorous high school so it wasn’t her fault.
    They denied the kid with the best grades who also worked, volunteered. What this tells me is that we are discouraging excellence and ambition. This is a means of leveling the playing field and its not fair. My junior daughter is so discouraged, she says that she might as well not apply to UC because she is white and privileged and goes to a private HS. No matter that she works very hard to get good grades, takes AP classes, has a summer job, volunteers, plays sports – that will only work against her. This is disturbing and distressing on so many levels.

    • Of course this is the case. And guess what? Californians have brought this on themselves. CA is, by far, the most liberal state in our nation so you cannot possibly be surprised that all this social engineering is now fully in place. Your politicians push “equality” even when the factors for admissions consideration aren’t remotely “equal.”

  • My daughter crushed her sat with a 1520 out of 1600 and carried a 5.0 gpa was turned down by Yale Harvard and Columbia. She was devastated. Meanwhile if she was a minority she would have been excepted with less the. 3.0 gpa

    • Umm serious and flawed generalization. I went to Harvard undergrad in the early 90s. My daughter has similar stats to your child. She was turned down by my alma mater as well as Brown for the Ivy’s. Yet she is a minority. It is really much more than that. I can easily generalize and complain about “affirmative action” for rich “majority” people who’s kids get in to these elite institutions because they donate a lot of money but I don’t. We all know there are so many crazy nuances in the admission process that we will never understand and ultimately a crap shoot. It’s all good. We move on and our kids will all do well in life! Please don’t reduce it to blaming a minority for taking your child’s place!

  • I couldn’t agree more. I’ve spent most of my professional life in education, and much of that effort has gone into helping students prepare for and apply to college. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that what you do with your time in college is SO much more important than the brand name on your degree. To me, a degree is essentially a receipt– proof that you got what you (or your scholarships) paid for. But your stories, your experiences, your life lessons, your friendships, your skills, your discoveries–those are the things that make your college experience fulfilling, and none of these depend on the name of your school. I hope this brings some comfort and encouragement to the many students out there who are feeling dejected and unworthy.

  • The schools are fools. The programs have failed our youth and the scam of out of state tuition overrides the real value of why we pay our taxes. So screw the collegiate system. Just make it free???? Now who gets In??? An entire new dilemma. Oye vey!

  • I am not so thrilled with the article. And I agree with Tracy. The message I got was “Yes, there are some quirks in the system, but take what you can get and you can still excel.” There is truth there, but if you understand the reasons behind the “quirks,” the situation does not go down so easily. Affirmative action, a twisted sort of multiculturalism (where rich foreigners are selected over better qualified home grown Americans), and the legacy system of where your parents went to school, among other more arcane factors, make acceptance at college a flat out crap shoot. How colleges and universities select students is a mystery shrouded in an enigma. So accept that message: take what you can get and make the most of it.

  • Great article, but it is missing an explanation as to why kids with 1460 SATs, 4.2 GPAs, 4 year athletics, and Presidents of several clubs are getting denied.

    If admissions were truly merit-based, without such a heavy push for diversity, articles like this one would not even need to be written

    • Kids like that are being rejected because, as pointed out previously, the number of kids who apply (with similar credentials) dwarfs the number of spots available. And for girls, it’s even harder, as there are now more girls applying to schools, and their school achievements are generally higher than boys. One can complain about international students, etc. but in my opinion, the two biggest factors in this problem are A) Parents believe, and thus their kids do too, that the only path to success is to go one of the “best” schools — which means, generally, Ivy or equivalent, and B) The Common Application. If it’s just as easy to apply to 10 schools as it is to 80 then these more competitive institutions will be flooded with applicants. If the scores/interests/achievements are similar, how to choose? The system is flawed and our kids suffer from it — they get pressure from their parents, their peers, their high schools and the colleges to succeed at such a tender age. There are thousands of good even great colleges. We all need to adjust our thinking.

  • Sounds like a great example of college admissions mimicking life. “Fair” doesn’t exist. When do we tell our children that? Hard to know when. But it certainly might as well be when our kids begin the college admission process. “Work hard, get a 4.0, do your best, throw yourself into social and extracurricular activities. If you do…you’ll get in!” NOT! Academic success and a good work ethic sadly don’t always produce success in life. And that, is a depressing but fundamental life lesson. Try talking about timing, luck, EQ, and being a people pleaser. Talk about the fact that “fair” is a nice concept, but in theory only. Leaving high school is a new beginning, with lots of bumps to work out on the road of life.

  • Even the schools. My daughter has decided to take a gap year with our full support. I don’t know how familiar you are with the I.B. program, but the short version is image taking the equivalent of 8 college classes a semester.

    When she did her college and beyond presentation (a requirement in our district out side of her I.B. diploma requirements) the I.B. advisor sat there and told her if she doesn’t go to college in the fall she’ll likely never go to college. My daughter was very clear in her plans which basicly equated out to she needed time to learn how be an adult. Due to this program she hasn’t had time to get a job, a drivers license, and a ton of other life experiences her peers in a “normal High school ” get to experience.

    I’m still very angry that a young adult who has made a very mature and responsible decision is being told she is failing. Luckily we’ve raised her well and she knows that her decision is the right one for her. She knows she’ll be better prepared for college when she does return to school.

  • What we should be able to accept is that college is not for everyone. Parents have a difficult time not taking it personally that their kids did not get in his favorite school. Our kids are having so many depression, anxiety, mental issues because so much pressure is put on them. No one tells them or encourages them to try other things. Go work at a job for 1-2 years. Gain some experience, gain some prospective, gain some confidence. In Italy, they give a kid a choice, work or university. It’s not a mandatory thing either way. Our son went through all this. We had to allow ourselves to accept the fact that he’s so much happier working and did not handle the pressure of college well and was very depressed. He figured out on his own that he needed/wanted a regular schedule, a job he could count on, a skill he could learn and master, and be productive without all the worry, pressure and constant feelings of failure when not doing well on a quiz, a test, or not making it to class, etc. It still makes us happy every time we see him happier than he’s ever been.

  • I have spent the last year researching colleges, acceptance rates, average SAT and ACT scores, visiting campuses, etc. My son made a perfect score on the math section of the SAT and close to perfect on english. He is a National Merit Scholar, varsity sports, lifeguard in the summers, has more AP credit than you can imagine, 4.8 GPA, Eagle Scout, and has studied more than my husband and I ever did in undergraduate and graduate school. He is driven and disciplined. We never put any pressure on him academically. He is completely self motivated. It never even entered into my mind that he wouldn’t get in to his schools of choice. We were just wondering how big the scholarship would be and how we could p[ay the difference. We also fully went into this process expecting disappointment at some level but not 4 rejections in 24 hours from his top schools left us stunned. What more could he have done? We insisted he apply too our alma maters in state and than God we did. I just wish I could have better prepared him for this process. I agree he will thrive at our public in state university and in the end it all works out but so interesting. I have another son watching the entire process now and is already scared for his own future. I just can’t make sense of it all.

  • Not in the sense of blame, I think it’s worth analyzing an aspect of the parent-child dynamic. Many kids these days are self or peer motivated to achieve academically and to be active in their communities or politically. The parents may have had the idea or drive but very often the kid is the driver. Here’s the maybe unexamined aspect: what does the average parent do when her kid is driving himself to high academic achievement, volunteering, playing on sport teams and working? Personally, I’d be proud as a peacock. Through no directed effort on my part, my kid is amazing! Who wants to say, hey kid, you really should cut back on all that stuff and play Dungeons and Dragons with friends three afternoons a week? Maybe we parents are unwittingly failing to provide some needed balance in our kids’ lives because our pride blinds us. Or maybe that’s just me.

  • This is a realistic and welcomed article. My son is a Junior at a very competitive high school with a GPA of 3.8, SAT scores of 1250 and all sorts of activities, clubs, etc. We have just returned home from tours of colleges during April vacation. Our conversation was enlightening as he quoted the admissions stats from each school as we set foot on the campus. In my opinion, the competitive nature of admissions took away from his ability to really look at the school in terms of those subjective factors; i.e., will I fit in? do they have the major that really interests me? I feel parents are a big part of the problem—in my town, parents see the child’s college admits as a badge of honor and seem to overlook the questions of affordability, fit for the child and academic rigor. It’s to the point, that I can’t even attend social functions without leaving anxious as the bragging and college admission “strategy” discussions take place. I imagine these discussions are 1000% worse at school….

    My advice, There’s a seat for every A#$. Try your hardest and then let the cards fall.

    Don’t get me wrong; I do want my son to attend a school that will offer him amazing opportunities, great alumni connections and long-lasting friendships; but not at the cost of his well-being.

  • My friend used to work for Harvard, creating computer software for admissions. There is no such thing as need- blind admissions. They have complicated algorithms that figure out not only who can pay, but who is likely to contribute after they graduate. This is part of it.
    Honestly, after screening many resumes of midlife career- changing ivy grads who want to teach biology half time for slave pay… I realize my boys are better off working for the super wealthy plumber general contractor across the street and getting those skills so they can work for themselves.

  • I graduated from high school 50+ years ago. I was an average student, but hard working. I was rejected by two of my desired colleges and very disappointed. I decided to attend a local community college- which I excelled at AND did I not only have an associate’s degree at the end of two years, but also very little debt as I lived at home. I then decided to reapply to those two four year schools and was accepted. Not only did I succeed there- dean’s list and graduated on time, I ended up teaching and taking student teachers from the college I graduated from- proving to the college that they should have taken a chance on me in the first place instead of those who decided to party and flunk out after a year or so. I got great satisfaction in finally achieving my goal, even though I had to take a detour. During my 35+ years of teaching I always praised two year colleges, even though a lot of kids referred to them as grade 13.

  • I have 7 kids and 7 challenges. I’m 1 for 1. She didn’t over achieve, she is doing amazing at a Big Four consulting firm. but I get upset when she says “I am too tired to come over and play with the little ones. I worked from 7:30 am and then until 3:30am”. That PISSES ME OFF.

    I’m a guitar player, but cuz I felt the feeling, I taught myself software engineering. We can do things without school. That is what my post is about. Not about dropping out of or blowing off school – we don’t need to suck on schools teats, and then companies.

    Would it be a sin to send your kid to a trade school and have him/her learn how to change an alternator? Join a Toyota Union and make 6 figures easily? Is that too Northshore? – can’t the kids dream while they work hard with discipline? My little son has a YouTube channel. He’s good. My daughter has a record on iTunes. We are adding to it. My step-son is a master Lego artist. My step-daughter can draw album covers.

    I’ve read so many posts filled with corporate testosterone. To hell with it. Change that ERG sensor and go home and get rich. Lose the student debt.

    A post from a plucker/geek – Oops – I had to teach myself something, without being rejected by a school. -D

  • I have 7 kids and 7 challenges. I’m 1 for 1. She didn’t over achieve, she is doing amazing at a Big Four consulting firm. but I get upset when she says “I am too tired to come over and play with the little ones. I worked from 7:30 am and then until 3:30am”. That PISSES ME OFF.

    I’m a guitar player, but cuz I felt the feeling, I taught myself software engineering. We can do things without school. That is what my post is about. Not about dropping out of or blowing off school – we don’t need to suck on schools teats, and then companies.

    Would it be a sin to send your kid to a trade school and have him/her learn how to change an alternator? Join a Toyota Union and make 6 figures easily? Is that too Northshore? – can’t the kids dream while they work hard with discipline? My little son has a YouTube channel. He’s good. My daughter has a record on iTunes. We are adding to it. My step-son is a master Lego artist. My step-daughter can draw album covers.

    I’ve read so many posts filled with corporate testosterone. To hell with it. Change that ERG sensor and go home and get rich. Lose the student debt.

    A post from a plucker/geek – Oops – I had to teach myself something, without being rejected by a school. -D

  • Not every child that applies to a school can get into that school, it’s that simple. The system hasn’t failed, that’s just life, some kids get in and others don’t. When you apply to a highly competitive school you should assume you’re not going to get in, those are just the odds. The prize isn’t the college you go to, it’s enjoying your time in high school and doing what you love.

  • O.M.G! Get over it. If the youth of today are going to allow some arbitrary process dictate how they feel about themselves them we parents have FAILED THEM! Life is FULL of dissapointments and arbitrary decisions made by other people, like job interviews. You nailed it, but didn’t get the position. Disappointed, yes but you move on to the next one. Same thing if your an actor or dancer or cheerleader or athlete. Nail audition or try out and don’t make the cut. NOBODY FAILED YOU! It’s called life.

    And many colleges are starting to do away with standardized test scores for entry, apply to one of those.

    And honestly after your first adult job, NO ONE CARES where you went to college. They care you can actually do the job!

    Maybe, instead of trying to make yourself into something you think “they” want, try being WHO YOU want to be.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I feel like you wrote this piece for my daughter Alexa! She is a High School Junior with a GPA of 4.3, scored 1500 on her SAT’s (and yes, she’s actually taking them again because one of the colleges she is interested in encouraged her to do so), runs for Cross Country, Winter & Spring Track, is on DECA…I could go on but you know the drill. Last week she was informed that she didn’t make National Honor Society because she hasn’t shown enough leadership. Seriously?!?! And we wonder why our kids are depressed, anxious, suicidal, need to be medicated.

    We spent her Spring Break traveling to DC, North Carolina & Virginia to look at some of the schools she is interested in applying to. They have all expressed to her that without visiting in person, her chances of acceptance is less likely than a potential student who has made the effort.

    I can only imagine what we are going to be dealing with next Fall when she starts applying to schools. She has done everything right and at this point asking herself what for….Something has to change.

    • This comment about visiting campuses during Spring Break actually tells you a lot. The admissions director at my children’s high school–who was head of admissions for a well-respected liberal arts school earlier in his career–points out that families and colleges have totally different incentives in the admissions process. There are more high school valedictorians than freshman admissions slots at Stanford. There are probably more valedictorians at academically-competitive schools in the US (and overseas) than admissions slots at Stanford. Universities in the top 50 rankings don’t look at applications to see whom to accept–they are trying to figure out whom to EXCLUDE. And how do they do that?

      For most universities–certainly private universities–the answer is, they want to maximize “yield.” Stanford accepts less than 5 percent of undergrad applicants, and thus is called the “most competitive” university. Stanford is not happy. Why? Because even with that statistic, a large number of students whom they admit choose to go somewhere else, like Harvard or MIT or Yale. Stanford’s yield rate–the share of admits who ultimate accept the admission offer–is lower than Harvard’s. That makes Stanford really, really upset.

      So, the applicant is thinking, “I’ve got this great record, what more could a college want?” The college is thinking, “We’ve got more qualified applications than we can even read–but how do we know that this talented senior, if sent a letter of acceptance, will actually end up here in the fall?” The answer is, the applicant needs to offer a signal that they have a commitment to that college. They talked to a rep at a college fair and left their name. They went on a campus tour. They studied the college website and got an idea of the values that the college wants to promote. They don’t just say, “I love Putz University and I really really really want to go there.” They say, “I know your university and here’s how you can be sure that I will make your freshman class a better community.”

      Yes, this is probably unfair and somewhat arbitrary, but when you have 1500 slots and more than 5000 applicants have SAT scores of 1600 and GPAs over 4.0, it makes about as much sense as any other screening factor.

      And beyond that–having parents who donate mega-bucks to the university in the years before you send your application won’t hurt, either. That’s a bigger factor than complaints about diversity and multiculturalism.

  • I think it’s a horribly flooded river that most folks choose to flow with rather than against. Colleges post “ideal profiles.” Families set those as targets and then hound educators to ensure that the numbers line up. I doubt that any high school wants to track their graduates, revealing the numbers of kids that can’t handle the load at universities. I also doubt that these ‘elite’ schools will take some credit for how unprepared they find their students are when they arrive (although they’ll post many articles on the need for remediation of first year students) as those kids pursued grades (by any means necessary) rather than knowledge and skills to match that posted profile.

    I would tell all that students should “dance with the one that brung ’em” and do their best at the colleges that accept them. They may also find that attending a school without a multi-million dollar sports program or highly publicized research institute might put them in contact with professors that really love sharing what they’ve learned with students and cultivate a love for a career path that balances a reasonable income and intellectual investment.

  • Thera-Mom said “This amazing student is going to move mountains… make positive changes in the world… She is a game changer, an influencer, and a visionary into what will make the world a better place. I hope she keeps her denial letter and one day when she is a US Senator, a Pulitzer Prize journalist or a Civil Rights Advocate…”


    We do a disservice to our children when we set such high expectations – game changer, visionary, Senator. We set them – and ourselves – up for disappointment.

    The truth is 99% of us live ordinary lives. We get a job and a paycheck, raise a family, try to be good citizens of our community, give back what we can, and try live a happy, fulfilling life according to our personal definition thereof. Get an education, not just while you’re in college, but throughout your life. Read books. Go to the theatre. Travel. Create. Grow things. Spend time with friends.

    Very few people achieve “great things”. Not everyone can be a Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Salman Khan, Jacqueline Novogratz, Mark Zuckerberg, Reshma Saujani, or Elon Musk. Instead encourage your children to achieve “good things”. Just be yourself, do your best at whatever you choose to do, and make your corner of the world a better place.

    • Thx Dana, if just one of these kids receives any of the above accolades I’ll eat my hat. Yes, we started early with high expectations for our sons. Their carreers have left us in the dirt, and made serious improvements to the USA and beyond. I haven’t read anything above from Tiger Mom’s, they r probably helping their kids study. When ur precious guitar playing, barn cleaning, Nobel not winning child needs a brain surgeon to save his or her life or an oncologist pediatrician to fight a disease they only learned about in that one particular IVY school, tell me u won’t get comfort from knowing they got the best education we can offer? Yes, ordinary is achievable by most, but not in areas where getting the best education will often lead to a better life for everyone.

  • Woa there. Since when does a “good” college mean the elite of the elite? That is NOT what is meant when education researchers and higher ed peeps refer to a “good” college. We mean a college that will do well by the student: one that will support them in meeting their long-term goals. The idea that only the most elite schools can serve students really well is a message that results from people conflating good with what impresses those around them. I also want to push back on the “where you go doesn’t define you” thing. I started my undergraduate at a very low performing state school. I am now getting my PhD at The University of Chicago. But you know what? It took me a decade longer to work my way here than my peers who went to more prestigious schools right out of high school. When I went to apply for my masters, elite schools were not banging down my door. I had to prove myself. I did a post-bac year, worked, got a second masters, and then finally was accepted to a PhD program that was funded. To say where you start doesn’t limit your choices is not completely accurate. In actuality it can. That doesn’t mean only the best of the best will do, it means figure out if a masters of doctorate is something you want to keep on the table, and then choose (of those that accept you) the school that will be financially sustainable with the best prospects for advancement (opportunities/ connection to respected faculty etc). This means reiterating from early on not to get attached to one particular school. Attending college is a lot like finding love. It isn’t all about you. You can be the best dang potential partner, but it is 50 percent you and 50 percent them. Developmentally this is something young people can struggle with, but we all (parents/school counselors/ college admissions reps) can help. Getting into a prestigious college isn’t a selection process where they take the “most qualified” and then work their way down some imaginary list . It is far more like casting a theatrical show. There are only so many Fred Astaires needed int the show. You can be the best dang tap dancer around, but if this season the company doesn’t need a tap dancer, then it just ins’t going to happen. What this article does hit on the head is that parents, schools and the public in general need to stop presenting college admissions as a competition of validation. It just isn’t.

  • Great article I would say however that anger about not getting into ucla is playing their game and like the computer says at the end of war games..” the only way to win is not to play”.. We need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and shouldn’t blame the college admissions process…if we seek to be whole people and teach our kids to be whole people we can avoid the stress and heartache of playing their game..the goal is to do your best within the envelope of your abilities. Period!

  • My daughter was ranked 2nd in her class, has a 4.45 GPA, got a 1500 on her SATS, took the most challenging classes her high school offered including 5 AP classes this year alone. She also took college level Spanish language class, was captain of color guard in marching band for three years, played piano for 10 years, played guitar for 5 years, and works 15 hours per week. She performs her own music solo at a local music venue. The girl rocks, and yet she was rejected by all except for her safety schools. She was even rejected by her father’s and my alma mater. Something really crazy is going on in this process. True, you don’t necessarily want a freshman class full of tap dancers, but come on!

  • Wonderful article and message. Having taught in a lower socioeconomic area, students were being told that a junior college was not good enough, that they should aim for the four year universities. This message placed so much pressure on both the students and their parents. Financially they could not aim for what was listed as the “best”. There is nothing wrong with a junior college as a stepping stone for the four year college.

  • Parents are a big part of this issue. We put pressure on our kids to attend “the best” schools not because the quality of education is better or because it sets them up for greater opportunity after graduation, but because of the perceived status symbol we receive by saying “my daughter is a sophomore at Duke”. For example, a teaching degree from Duke will cost approximately $300k to attain. The same degree at an NC public university will cost $60k. Upon graduation, job opportunities and salary will be the same. There are literally hundreds of 2 and 4 year colleges and universities that would accept your friend’s child and many that would offer substantial incentives. You can’t fault the admissions offices at these elite schools. They are flooded with applicants and have a limited number of seats available. As far as the 4.2 GPA goes, over the last 25 years schools have bowed to parental pressure and watered down grading to the point where a GPA must be taken with a huge grain of salt.GPA’s across the country have continued to climb, but ACT and SAT scores have been stagnant or trended downward.

  • As you said – it’s all about who you know… college is about relationships. So regardless of where you go, connect! It will make all the difference in the world.

  • I think it is important to pay attention to colleges’ acceptance rates. As an example, my daughter kept receiving mailings from the University of Chicago. She knew their acceptance rate and some current students. Despite a great GPA, active participation (and leadership) in extracurriculars, girls state, working, volunteering, etc., she chose not to apply. “University of Chicago? Yeah. Right.” I think it is good to consider the competition, which college would be a good fit and (in our case) which college is most likely to provide scholarships. I wish all of our kids luck – and time to have fun in h.s., college and beyond.

  • If I can go one step further, this now starts in elementary and middle school. Sadly, I have a 5th grader, 8th grader and junior in high school. My 2 youngest struggle with school work. That is not the sad part. The sad part is teachers either don’t care, don’t have the time or patience to deal with struggling students. Both my boys get pushed aside. Which just starts the mentality very early on, they are not good enough. How do you motivate a child with no help or support from the school district? I have had conversations with them. With no help or plan. The struggling kids are being left behind completely! But as long as those teachers get their paycheck it all good right? What if a teachers tenure or pay was based on more than being in the classroom Monday- Friday?

    • As a teacher, I can honestly tell you it isn’t the teachers. We don’t believe in what is happening to students. We are told this is what is expected and if students don’t score high enough … then our salaries, the schools reputation/grade can be effected. I don’t know one teacher that agrees with what is happening. We are told to keep moving forward, keep raising the bar even though we know many of the expectations are not realistic.

  • As an elementary educator and a mother of a senior, I can say the anxiety starts in the primary grades. More and more students are on medicine. Children are being asked to take assessments that are NOT developmentally appropriate. HS is more of the same – testing, competition, pressure, and students feeling as if they are not good enough. What is being done to our youth is unacceptable. I’m afraid in a few years we will have an overwhelming number of adults who are stressed out, medicated, and lacking in confidence. They will not achieve greatness because society has beaten them down. Adults will look back and realize how their childhood was lacking in balance because there was the constant pressure of accomplishing the impossible. HS students are expected to belong to clubs, sports, maintain over a 4.0 (over a 4.0… REALLY?), take college classes in HS, graduate with a HS diploma along with an AA degree, all while completing hundreds of service hours that includes building an orphanage in Guam. When will the madness end?

  • This is spot on! I remind my kids that they will land exactly where they are supposed to be and we are O.K. with where ever that may be! I have shared your article with my friends who are a little freaked out right now! They also thank you for the reminder that we have a unrealistic system in place right now.

  • I would like to use this quote in my work as a College and Career Counselor in a large suburban public high school. May I have your permission?:
    “You are more than a letter, a rating, or a standardized test score….Hard work, determination, discipline, and grit are so much more important to your future than what college you get into. Kelly Richardson”

  • Great article! Fantastic replies. In touring many different colleges in many different states, it seems to me that there is a very unique problem in California. In many states, the universities are loyal to their residents. They are prioritized before an outsider can be considered up to 70% of residents in some states. The property taxes and businesses that have helped the community and state flourish and paid into by the residents shows reciprocity to their children by considering them before outsiders. We in California are not prioritized in these other states. In fact, we are actually put at the bottom of the list of candidates for UC schools, below out-of-state tuition payers as seen as their priority. I think I read that 14% of residents attend UCLA. That is disgraceful and unacceptable. So we have no California UC schools that prioritize our students leaving them in no-man’s land in the college application process. I am not sure why our state officials, politicians, and elected officials do not see this as their problem to fix. Why are we paying high property taxes, the highest sales tax, and ridiculous overcrowding to not reap the rewards by given priority to schools we have already paid into before even applying? It is amazing the fight everyone shows for “others”, but there is no fight for our kids to prioritized in our state for future education that we have earned and paid into. Please explain why this is not a priority issue for our children who have worked just as hard (if not harder) for outsiders (non residents) who take their spots in our local, state colleges, and UC universities.

    • The college ‘fearmongering’ is partly due to people spreading inaccurate rumors and factual inaccuracies. I recommend that parents do their own research and become educated. In the case of this reply, please check out,
      You will see that 4359 enrolled freshman were CA residents of 6037 total enrollees, a 72% rate. The admission % is about 57%. While only 15% of resident applicants get accepted, that compares to 13% for international students – and those numbers are so low, because as this blog said over 103,000 students applied and thought that they were qualified. Please don’t continue the sharing of inaccurate info, please do research and realize that there are a lot of great schools out there besides the ‘Top 20’ that everyone thinks their kid should get into. The fear of not getting into a Top 20 is the public policy we need to fix and address.

  • Omg.. thank you for this article. I am a mom of the most hardworking son who just last night was rejected from so many “top colleges”. My son has over a 4.0.. class President.. varsity tennis.. yearbook advisor.. AP classes.. belongs to every honor society.. etc.. the list goes on. He has lost sleep over writing papers in the middle of the night. An 18 year old who was just rejected by college after college. His “safety school” wants him and gave him money. We are thrilled for him and want to celebrate but right now he’s in his room sulking and thinking he’s not good enough. However, he told us he’s just reflecting on all the years he put in and all the sweat he’s dripped from literally working his ass off. As a mom and teacher, I am appalled at these colleges for making this college acceptance the worst feeling for students like my son who deserve to go to the schools of their choice. After reading your article last night at 1am in the morning, I finally was able to fall back asleep to get up in the morning to teach our future leaders. Your article made so much sense in a world that makes no sense sometimes. My son will persevere and go on to do great things in this world. I’m going to make him keep those rejection letters and when he’s on top of the world and successful after 4 years at his “safety school”… I want him to let those schools know he didn’t need their sweatshirt to conquer college life at their rejection. I want him to let them know he did it without their “thanks.. but no thanks”. My son will be strong and do great things in his life. I hope I can influence other students I teach that they are better than a score.. and a rejection letter. They can do anything they want to do because they don’t need an admission crew telling them that their hard work and 4.0 is not good enough. Thank you for the article. It saved me a sleepless night after a day of heartache.
    With gratitude… Joseph’s mom xo

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