A few months ago, a high school senior shared surprising news:
He had a great time visiting college campuses. In fact, he liked a lot of them and could see himself happy in several different places.
There wasn’t one place, or one type of place, where he thought he could thrive. That’s great, right?
A few of the schools he liked had higher acceptance rates. In other words, they accepted a bigger percentage of applicants and weren’t seen as exclusive as the highly rejective schools – a term given to colleges and universities that accept less than 10%.
He openly worried about what other people would think if he decided to attend a school that was seen as less selective.
Would his classmates assume he wasn’t smart? (“I thought he was smarter than that,” he imagined one of her classmates saying…). Would people assume he got rejected from “better” places – better being defined by schools that accept a lower percentage of applicants? What would he put on his graduation cap?
So, the kicker: why had he worked so hard – getting good grades, taking AP exams – if it was going to lead to attending a college he could have gained acceptance without stressing himself out as much?
It was a lot to unpack. At the same time, it is familiar: the narrowed definition of what success looks like is – that only one type of place signals intellect, success, and status, and any deviation from that is seen as a failure.
Most can admit to being guilty of some form of this – if it isn’t around college admissions, then it is around something else altogether. When kids are younger, it can start with sports teams or certain clubs or groups. After over a decade of visiting schools around the country, I’ve seen how every community has faulty finish lines and judgment factors – things we use to subconsciously or consciously pass judgment around.
My Upcoming Book
In my upcoming book, Erasing the Finish Line, I discuss the paradox of access and opportunity. Many of the students in the most affluent areas of the country are ridden with angst, anxiety, and overwhelm, and many of our current strategies aren’t working. What are we missing here?
One of the central tenets of my book is that many students could benefit from an expanded perspective. Without being exposed to multiple or expanded definitions of success, they feel restricted, and as a result, unable to consider a life blueprint that doesn’t exactly mirror a very narrowed array of options. I’ve seen firsthand how rigid (and harmful) this mindset can be. Students and families alike become convinced that only one school, or type of school, or pathway is “right” for them.
Summer can be a great time to encourage an expanded perspective because our days have fewer built-in obligations.
Some ideas for jumpstarting the process this summer or fall:
- Expand beyond normal routines– visit a new place, attend a summer program or participate in an activity with different peers, or plan a day-long excursion using an alternate form of transportation.
- Work in retail or food-service jobs. These experiences give students the opportunity to talk with people of all ages and backgrounds. It can build their comfort level by moving between different spaces with increased ease.
- As parents, model openness and curiosity in your own relationships. If you go to events at your child’s school/extracurriculars, do you speak to the same parents every time? Do you ever introduce yourself or interact with different parents, faculty members, and staff? How inclusive and welcoming are you to those who are new in the community?
How We Work With Our Students
In our office, we are closing out our second college application bootcamp this week. Additionally, our summer writing workshops for middle school and high school students are in full swing. Our focus is on making the process of learning and discovery meaningful and an opportunity for expanding perspective.
There are multiple pathways for success, and we often overlook the most beneficial opportunities due to our focus can be narrowed to one place or type of place.
Wishing you and your family a great summer break!
PS. My book tour for Erasing the Finish Line is kicking off this fall with stops in NY, SF, Boston, DC, Memphis, and Denver… is your school or organization interested in having me speak? Please be in touch and we can share all the information!
Other links of interest:
Green Ivy College Application Bootcamp – spots in session 3, 4, 5 (session 6 is full)
Detecting AI may be impossible and that’s a problem for teachers (Washington Post)