While we are all waiting to hear back from colleges about their admissions decisions, last week’s “college admissions scandal”, also known as #varsityblues, has got me thinking… about a lot of things…When did we end up in a world where merit has been replaced by entitlement? What kind of a future generation are we raising? What is the message we are giving our children here? This week’s blog post was going to be about financial aid appeals, but I just could not NOT have written something about the recent breaking news to give my two cents.
As those who are in my immediate circle of friends and family know, I do a lot of pro bono work with low-income and first-generation students. I witness – on a daily-basis – all the struggles they face in their lives. I never saw any of them complain about their social status or talk about how the college admissions system in the U.S. is not fair. What I saw instead was always hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears… The hope I heard in their voices or the light I saw in their eyes never ceased to amaze me and led me to be stronger at times of difficulty. I was always empowered by their ambition… until last week. As a college admissions counselor, I was speechless. How was I supposed to protect my students from the wrong doings of today’s world? They already started the game way behind because of their socio-economic background. How are they ever going to believe in the system now? How am I supposed to tell them that it is going to be fine? How can I encourage them to believe that they have a shot in this game, too? Do they? What about my daughter who is now in middle school? When she comes to me for college advice, how can I tell her that doing her best will get her into a very good college? Will it?
I have nothing against affluent families who want the best for their children. I, too, am a mother, so I know… However, what I have a problem with is daring to manipulate the system by “purchasing” a seat in an elite college or Ivy league university. Are parents the only ones to blame? Of course, not! Everyone involved in the process is guilty as charged; however, the biggest portion of the guilt goes to the parents in my opinion. This college frenzy has gotten way out of hand. I am not sure how it could be fixed, but the easiest cure would be starting within ourselves, as parents. Here is an idea: We can all start accepting our children as they are, start respecting their choices, and love them unconditionally… without being caught up on the brand names and our high expectations of them. Parents like the ones who have caused the scandal are the main reason why getting into a top college is more competitive than ever! By putting those colleges on a pedestal, parents like those are the ones who have enabled this college mania to be where it is today.
Please stop attributing too much unnecessary value to such colleges. I am not saying they are not worth it; they are all wonderful colleges, and anyone would be very lucky to attend them; however, there are thousands of others that would be a great fit for your sons and daughters. An elite-college education does not automatically grant success in life. There are many successful people who have not graduated from an Ivy or an elite college. If you do not believe me, just google some famous people you admire. You will be shocked to see how many of them attended some not-so-famous colleges. As I always say, it is not where you go to college; it is what you do when you get there.
Can you please take a deep breath, relax, and trust your children? Let them sit behind the steering wheel. It is their journey; don’t you think it is only fair that they navigate? Trust me, you will not only have empowered your kids to make decisions for themselves, but you will also have helped them become successful human beings in life. Come on, life is not all about success in college, right? Real success is what you do and how you feel about it after college. When you create a life path for your children, they just get used to the comfort of doing what they are told to do. In other words, they get too comfortable to take the initiative. As soon as they arrive in college, they are like fish out of water – no directions, no guidelines, no timelines, no reminders, no nagging, no nothing… They feel lost. More and more these days, I am hearing stories from parents whose son or daughter dropped out of college and came back home without even finishing the academic year because it was “too intense” for them. Frank Bruni, a well-known New York Times columnist who specializes in college admissions and the author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, talks about the “disservice” we do to our children by stressing too much emphasis on success as measured by college acceptances in his latest article “The Moral Wages of the College Admissions Mania.” One thing in that article specifically caught my eye: the paragraph where he mentions his interview with Barry Schwartz, who was a psychology professor at Swarthmore between 1971 and 2016. As Professor Schwartz summarized it, “They [students] want a recipe. And that’s the wrong thing to be wanting. Recipes create cooks. They don’t produce chefs.” Exactly! Parents – please do not prevent your kids from becoming the future chefs… If you let them, they will take their cooking skills to the next level. You just need to believe in them… Whatever decision comes out in that envelope or application portal in the next upcoming weeks, make sure to celebrate your kids, be super proud of their choices, and give them an extra hug! That is your number one responsibility as a parent and probably one of the rarest moments that will be engraved on their memory. Make it worth remembering…
Here at EdMission Possible, empowering our students lies at the core of our philosophy. That is why we use a Student-Centered College CounselingTM approach and give full responsibility to our students to be in charge of their future. Parents will always be a crucial part of our process, but the student will be driving the car. We as the counselors and you as the parents will be supporting and cheering on our student – from the back seat of the car. It will be a pleasant ride, so enjoy it (while it lasts)…
Burcak Deniz Cakir, M.A., M.B.A.
Founder and President | EdMission Possible