I truly don’t care where my kids go to college. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement. But it is.
Many parents are fanatical about where their children end up. They might not admit it, but they are. They fantasize about putting the prestigious university sticker on the back of the car.
It’s not just about ego (although, that’s part of it). It’s the belief that a good college is an essential first step to a successful adulthood. The more selective the college, the more likely it is that a child succeeds.
Of course, I want my kids to flourish. I just don’t believe in sacrificing the last few years of my kids’ childhoods for the sake of improving their options.
So when my daughter Casey was in 8th grade I decided that I would avoid pushing her toward doing anything that was solely in pursuit of building up the college resume. My daughter wasn’t going to volunteer simply to check off a box. She would select activities based upon genuine interests (bye bye piano). And she would work hard for the sake of learning, not to improve her chances of landing a spot at Harvard or Stanford.
There was, however, a tiny voice in the back of my head that worried. What if I was wrong? What if my philosophy would ruin her chances of living a happy, successful life?
As my daughter wraps up the final few months of her senior year of high school, I am more confident than ever in my approach. It turns out research repeatedly shows where one attends college doesn’t actually even matter in terms of student learning, future job satisfaction, or well-being.
There is no relationship between college selectivity and the ability to thrive in five distinct areas of wellbeing. And yet, many of us are deeply devoted to a misguided pursuit of landing our children in the most highly selective programs. Some parents are so focused on college entry that they are actually negatively impacting what they care about most, their children’s health and happiness.
Helicoptering, it’s all of us, and it’s a problem.
The recent Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal is the most extreme example of parents going too far. But even without the cheating and bribery, the mindset behind this behavior (namely: top colleges=future success) is alarmingly prevalent and just as damaging.