Less Stress, More Success - A New Approach to College Admissions and Beyond


Chapter 1 My Epiphany

For the last several years I have been writing about the over-involvement of parents in the college admissions process. I've spoken to nearly 150 parent and guidance counselor groups nationwide about the proper role for parents. During the question-and-answer period of each presentation, someone inevitably raises a hand to assert that we college admissions officers are to blame for encouraging and rewarding the high-pressure, whirlwind activities of their kids. Frankly, I didn't take it seriously…until the night I did an information session about MIT somewhere in the Midwest.

At the end of my talk, a young high school student approached me to ask, "Is it true that you need 10 extracurricular activities to be admitted to MIT?" I was a little annoyed because I had just spent the previous hour describing our admissions process and nowhere had I mentioned the need for 10 extracurricular activities. I assumed he hadn't been listening.

"No, of course not. What makes you ask?" He pulled out the MIT application and showed me the actual question. Standing shoulder to shoulder with him in that conference room, I could see the world through his eyes for a few seconds, and I was horrified to see the 10 blank lines that we had set aside for extracurricular involvement.

That moment was an epiphany for me. As I saw that extracurricular question through the student's eyes, I instantly realized that we were sending the wrong message because of a simple misunderstanding. The essence of our problem was logistical: It is more efficient for us to read thousands of applications each year if the information in them is displayed in a standardized format. But we kept adding lines each year to accommodate the burgeoning extracurricular load our applicants displayed on extra pages attached to the applications. These added pages had slowed down our application reading, so adding empty lines to the form had seemed the right thing to do at the time.

Many of us in college admissions are working hard to lower the flame in the admissions process to relieve young people of the enormous pressure they bear. We know that students do not actually need so many activities to be admitted to our colleges. While we acknowledge this modern phenomenon of students working so hard to keep up with friends and adult expectations, we most often feel helpless to stop the cycle, especially when we actually get rewarded in ranking surveys for admitting the most frenzied. Parents everywhere are eager to stop over-scheduling their kids as well, as long as their children do not suffer in the selection process. So how do we all collectively step off the treadmill and reclaim some sanity? I hope that this book offers healthy alternatives to guide parents in raising the kind of children that colleges are really looking for and to teach the proper role of parenting them through the college admissions process. And you can count on the fact that we in college admissions will continue to find ways to do our part to lower students' stress.

We reevaluated our admissions process at MIT based on that single exchange with a puzzled student. The process made me think deeply about the role of college admissions officers and parents alike in the increased anxiety of this young Millennial generation. And I have come to believe that in our own way, we are making them sick. Nothing will create children poised for success in college and in life more than the knowledge that their parents absolutely, unconditionally love them. This love and attention is best demonstrated when parents serve as role models and family members make time to cherish one another.

The most valuable and useful character traits that prepare children for success arise not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love and guidance. It's about raising happy, well-adjusted adolescents who will find the right college, the best match for them personally.

Chapter 8 The Problem with Perfectionism


About the Authors


Excerpted with permission from "Less Stress, More Success-A New Approach to College Admissions and Beyond" Copyright © 2006 Marilee Jones, Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, with Martha M. Jablow. Published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. All rights reserved.