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I’m a FAILURE as a Parent!

One of my favorite things to do professionally is participating in conferences. I’m not sure if it’s the educator in me, or the researcher I want to be, but there is no better way to recharge the battery. Recently, I attended the National Career Development Association in New Orleans. Being around what I call “my people” is the best shot in the arm you can get. All of the conference attendees understand the challenges young adults are facing every day. Working together inside the walls of the hotel made us feel like we were all singing the same song. Until I walk out the front door…

One evening as I went to dinner, I learned again that we may be in the minority. Because I love striking up conversations with complete strangers, I had two different conversations with parents which continue to remind me of the importance of what I do. At a very nice restaurant in the French Quarter, as we waited for our table, a conversation took place with the lovely couple next to us. When they found out why I was there and what I do, the conversation turned quickly to them and their situation. This is pretty normal when people find out I work with young adults. I was surprised by the statement made by the father, a prominent investment banker in New York City. He said, “we, as parents, feel like failures when our children don’t get into Ivy League schools!”

Fast forward 2 hours later. After dinner, we visited a different local establishment and met another wonderful couple from NYC. I share what I do and guess what?? The comment is made “we feel like failures when our children don’t get into great schools!” I’m not making this up! I couldn’t believe within a span of 3 hours I had two different couples say the exact same thing to me! Maybe it was because I was a stranger. Maybe it’s because they could tell I sincerely cared. Who know. But here I sat thinking “WOW! These parents are working so hard to provide for their young adults and in their minds, they have failed them because they didn’t go to the school OTHERS feel validate their status.”

I told each of them about my favorite book for parents “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be” by Frank Bruni. I explained to them how colleges get their rankings. I explained that a university does not define THEM or their children. I shared that we have lost sight of what is important about the higher education experience. But honestly, my heart broke for them because their comments were so raw and honest. And I’m afraid much more common that people want to admit.

So where does that stress fall? On the student! Below are statistics from Mr. Bruni’s book that gives insight into the madness.

  • Roughly 75% of students at the two hundred most highly rated colleges come from families in the top quarter of income in the US

  • There’s a proven correlation between high SAT scores and high family income which suggests that admission to an Ivy League school is in many cases a badge of privilege as much as an intrinsic or earned mettle

  • The College Confidential website, which is devoted to the admissions process, attracts tens of MILLIONS of unique visitors annually

  • A quarter century ago, only one in ten college-bound students applied to seven or more colleges. Now, due to The Common Application more than one in four apply to seven or more

A school’s selectiveness – measured in large part by its acceptance rate – becomes synonymous with its worth. Part of the blame can be placed on the U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking which factors acceptance rates into their evaluation of schools – the lower the rate, the loftier the evaluation – and many schools have inevitably responded with efforts to bring their rates down by ratcheting up the number of young people applying.

A few years ago I was visiting a friend in Westport, Connecticut. She had a friend over to visit and we started talking about the college experience and I shared my philosophy. He turned to me and said, “You need to be talking to these parents here because they have all lost their minds!” I don’t believe they’ve lost their minds, but I do believe the panic has spread because we continue to fuel the fire by not maintaining common sense or recognizing the “game” that is being played by universities.

The bottom line is:

  1. This is THE student’s journey, not the parents.

  2. Find the right major through assessments that help guide you.

  3. Choose a university that “feels right” for the young adult.

  4. Take a breath!

And lastly, you did NOT fail your child! You have placed value on learning and are guiding them to their own path. Be kind to yourself but also, keep things in perspective. Parenting is hard enough without thinking the university your young adult attends will determine their happiness. It’s a chapter in their lives. Period.

And remember…it’s going to be OKAY! I promise.

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