Across my desk sits a picture painted of unrealistic expectations. Anxiousness and self-doubt. Ideals of what success should look like. An all or nothing mentality. An average student who feels like a failure. An AP student who lacks hours of sleep and is barely holding it together. A student in love with soccer who quits only to add more work for his college applications. A student who is incessantly checking online portal accounts, emails, grades, Snapchats, texts from Mom, Instagram posts, Twitter feeds and can never disconnect. A student heading to an SAT tutor and can’t escape the question, “So where are you applying to college?” A student who has not eaten a proper lunch in days. A student who never feels like they can share their real thoughts feelings and interests for fear of mockery.
It’s too much. And it is ruining our kids. Over the past six years as a college counselor I have met with hundreds of families, visited colleges nationally and internationally, participated on advisory board meetings, attended professional conferences and collaborated with counselors and admission representatives from across the country. Over the past six years I have also seen more kids who need help. More kids who need someone to believe in them. Believe without a mold of what defines success. Desperate for a world with more than admission to a university.
Our students are lacking the ability to succeed. Stemming from a myriad of external factors including parent pressure, community pressure, the idea that success is defined by where you attend an institution rather than what you did. Defined by higher education, constant games of comparing, society and social media. Education. Social status. How others are perceived within the world. We are defining our students by a checklist. A list of courses, internships and extracurricular activities. A checklist that hopefully will one day, gain students’ admission into the upper-echelon.
Our students are living in a reality that is suffocating them. A reality that leads to unhealthy coping habits and an inability to foster self-efficacy. Our students need environments that build integrity, resiliency, honesty and self-drive. Made from factors outside of something that can be tutored, crafted and preplanned. An authentic environment where they can try something new and fail. Not for the sake of college, but for the sake of self-discovery and growth. An authentic environment where they own their mistakes and show up for themselves instead of having a parent show up for them. An authentic environment where they are celebrated for their differences. Environments that breed paths beyond college admission, but ones that encourage and celebrate their strengths.
Our students are begging for us to model better behavior and we have more power than we think. Modeling healthy disconnecting habits where we eat at the dinner table and turn our phones off. Where we ask each other about our days instead of the performance on tests. Where we set the college conversation aside when it’s been a tough day. Where we teach them what beauty means beyond influencers. Where we support without an agenda. Where we set boundaries and expectations and allow our students to succeed and fail equally. Where we show up for our students in a way that’s needed. Not a way that’s wanted.
Success is not defined by the name on your diploma. It is defined by the experiences over a lifetime that include failures that allow opportunities for growth, development and a stronger belief in self. Success is defined by the narratives that we create for ourselves. A narrative well beyond college admission. I fight every day to show up for my students and remind them that they are more than the grades on their transcript. That they have more options than they ever thought possible. They mean more than the confines of an exam in a classroom. They have more to accomplish than we can ever predict and it is our job to let them try. So let’s let them.
Letter written by Senior after finding out she was not accepted by one of her dream schools:
“Last Thursday, I was making my way to government class as I was nervously opening my emails. I furiously glanced through my inbox, trying to find three big letters: N, Y, and U. After seeing that I had not received the anticipated email, I noticed that there was an email from you, just relaxing in my inbox. I clicked on its link and merely skimmed through your last blog post, “College Admission Decisions Not What You Expected?” I skimmed through it smugly thinking that I was definitely going to get into NYU and that I will not be needing this email after receiving my acceptance letter. However, a few hours later, I opened the letter and got rejected. I felt very disappointed, but not disheartened.
I decided to go back to your post and actually peruse every word. Surprisingly, after reading it, I felt more self-assured than before. Turns out that I had learned a lot of extremely valuable lessons just from your post. It was an amazing read and I even showed it to my father who 100% agrees. Your success arrow diagram impelled me to realize that life/success is actually a tangled mess, but as long as the arrow is exponential (or at least approaching upwards) that’s great! Another big take away from your post was that I only lose what I think I lose. That was a powerful message that I will never forget.
The message about losing not only makes me feel better about my rejection, but it makes me see the positive in every situation. In fact, I am glad to have been rejected because had I been accepted, I would not have clicked on your post and understand the valuable lessons you had to offer. I would not have a different, perhaps better, perspective about success and losing. I am also glad to have been rejected because I was able to detect my mistakes and see how I can rectify/learn from them for my future applications. So, I have not lost.
Now, all I can do is make a new game plan and wait. Thank you for the wonderful message. I really appreciate you and all the help you have given to me and my classmates. Thank you once more!”
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