By nearly every measure available, the system of higher education found in the United States is considered the best in the world. No where else in the world can you find the amazing diversity of American higher education from open access community colleges, religiously-affiliated institutions, private liberal arts colleges, and elite research universities. American universities make up 57 of the Times Higher Education top 200 universities in the world, and 8 of the top 10. Hollywood makes movies about famous colleges and the even more famous people who attend them like The Social Network, A Beautiful Mind, and Goodwill Hunting.
It’s true, I have been fascinated with American higher education my whole life. I have toured hundreds of colleges in my life and believe with my whole being that a college campus is one of the most transformative and inspirational places you could ever choose to spend time.
But the more I work with young people, the more I have come to a clear realization about those amazing colleges.
Not a single one of those colleges are worth sacrificing your identity, health, or happiness to attend.
Not a single one of them is worth changing who you are just to apply and enroll.
None of these colleges, as amazing as they are, is worth forfeiting your family’s well-being and household peace.
Not. A. One.
Enrolling in college is not the beginning of adulthood (as many seem to think it represents). It is mile marker on a journey toward adulthood already in progress.
So when we as a society take a moment and consider that 44% of college students report chronic symptoms of depression and anxiety, we have to understand that the root of this problem did not start on college move-in day. It is a continuation of a pattern started much earlier in which student self-worth is directly tied to the production of a grade point average, which is then tied to an admissions offer from a “good” college.
But patterns can be disrupted.
Start by asking yourself as a parent:
How much are you emphasizing good grades as a means to a “good college and a good job,” rather than for mastery of a subject?
How often do you equate selectivity rate (the percent of applicants a college admits) with the quality of a college?
How often do you encourage learning for the sake of learning, versus education as a means to an end?
Do you buy high end sports equipment with the explicit goal that it will help your student get an athletic scholarship?
Do you disparage your child’s interests with, “You’ll never get a job with that major”?
How often is your student hearing messages that high school is preparing them for college, and then that college is preparing them for the workforce, rather than looking at their education as a journey toward a fulfilling and happy life?
The way I see it, colleges are the wonderful places they are because of the amazing students who attend them, not the other way around.
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