Say “No” to an Admission Offer from a Highly Selective College?




Sometimes I cringe when I re-read some of my older Blog posts. And sometimes I think I was spot on.

Early April is here – and with it, I’m moving beyond the March Madness of basketball (that final game where the underdog team Villanova beat UNC at the buzzer was well worth staying up late for) – and again observing the annual “madness” that the college acceptance season has become.

I wrote a Blog post in April, 2015 expressing my thoughts on what really matters when making a college choice.

Here is what I said then  – I think it rings as true today as it did a year ago ———>


———> Yes, it is a ridiculous and harmful obsession that some parents, shared at times by their teens, have with getting accepted to an elite, highly selective college.

And yes, “getting in” can become the narrowest of goals in the madness of this college admission season.

But – can I be honest here?

I think it really DOES matter where a student goes to college.

But probably not for the reasons you think.

1st – Attending a college with a well-known brand name DOES open future doors.

I agree 150% that fit matters far more than brand name. Yet brand name can help, especially in the post-college years – – let’s not kid ourselves.

When I applied for internships and jobs, every interviewer I met labeled me (rightly or wrongly) as smart based upon the school from which I had graduated.

“You went to Smith? My (daughter/wife/sister/niece/cousin) went to Smith. You must be smart.”

The name of my college opened doors – got me interviews, introduced me to well-connected alums.

Here’s the key though: It was up to me to achieve once I got in that door.

So if your teen pushes for a brand name school, he understands its’ name will always be on his resume. He’s right; that name alone may ease his path to jobs and graduate schools. But he has to do the work once he gets there.

2nd – Going to a college that offers a diverse and intellectually stimulating community in which to live DOES matter.

Much of the learning in college comes from outside the classroom – which is why it is important to attend a college where you will be surrounded by people you will learn from.

And, assuming a student, is open to new ideas, because this is really what college is about, isn’t it? –  she will not learn as much from people who look like her, think like her and grew up near her than she would from people who are dissimilar.

Diversity DOES matter – because highly selective schools usually can and do offer more financial aid, a student may find a truly diverse student community, in terms of background, beliefs, ethnicity, race and social class in a more selective school.

3rd –  and most important to me  – Where a student goes to college DOES matter to that student’s Mental Health.

Parents and their teens must discuss the topic of college student mental health – before the student sets foot on campus next fall.

The absurd stress of the college admission process is but a harbinger of things to come. If a student gets accepted to the dream elite school of her choice, the prize is an entrance ticket into an even more stressful academic environment.

Highly selective schools function as pressure cookers, packed with intensely focused kids driven to succeed and achieve, to get that A, to find the best internship, to land a prestigious job after graduation or get into a top medical school.

And the impact of all of that stress?

An increasingly deleterious impact on the mental health of college students. More students than ever, according to recent studies, report feeling anxious, depressed and/or stressed.

The University of Pennsylvania, seeking its own answers after a series of student suicides,  wants to change its own campus culture of  self-described “destructive perfectionism” – – a culture sadly familiar to many at similar top colleges where driven students put immense pressure on themselves to achieve and then think they have failed themselves (and perhaps their parents) if they don’t meet their often overly ambitious goals.

So step back a minute.

If accepted to a highly selective school, congratulations – and yes, it’s true that its’ name brand will be a helpful lifetime credential and alumni connection.

And yes, a top college often offers the most intellectually intriguing and diverse community in which to study and make forever friends.

But perhaps – if your student gets accepted by the most tippy-top, elite of schools, because of his perfect grades, mega test scores, impossibly impressive list of awards, achievements and leadership positions, even if your son or daughter is the kind of student who could barely find time to floss in high school, given how busy he or she was –

Perhaps your student should do the unexpected –  and  consider saying “no, thank you” to that most elite of colleges?

What if your student instead considered instead a college with a culture that is not one of  “destructive perfectionism” – but instead one that will support as well as challenge a student.

Here’s the plan:

  • Colleges themselves must take the first step to lessen the pressure to be perfect in order to be accepted.
  • Parents should dial down their own expectations.
  • Students should put their own mental health first (and second, and third) – and start rethinking about college (and high school) as places in which to enjoy learning, to thrive in instead of being driven into a frenzy of unrealistic achievement goals.

Then the only March Madness will be the games we watch on T.V.







Filed under 1st Job, College, College, Education, Mental Health, Parenting, Raising Kids, Young Adult Mental Health

7 responses to “Say “No” to an Admission Offer from a Highly Selective College?

  1. I agree. The culture needs to jive to the whole student!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bonnie J. Weissman

    Sometimes as you noted, it really pays to go to the selective college— known brand, contacts with influential alumnae, etc., if your kid feels like she could belong there. But sometimes on a visit one discovers he or she just does not feel a fit with it. Daughter of a good friend, summa grad of Smith, was accepted to several high prestige medical schools. She was accepted and then spent some time at Columbia, and could not stand the people there at all, so decided to go to Georgetown. She promptly dropped out after two years after realizing she was not meant to be an MD. Even the smartest people take circuitous routes. She now owns two businesses and is very happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I definitely have a comment here, Nancy! 🙂 My daughter got into eight of the nine schools she applied to. Four of those schools are public universities, and four are private. She even got accepted to her number one “reach” school — Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. And guess what? Even with the grants and scholarships she has been offered, the PARENTS are still being asked to pay, on average, of $35,000 PER YEAR. This is CRAZY for a BA degree! Loans are out of the question because the loans are bought and sold, and interest is compounded. We would be in debt for the rest of our lives, and then pass it on to our daughter. This is not good for anyone. So, she is going to our awesome community college for an AA… and after that, who knows? She is going to have to figure it out. We can help out a little, but certainly not $35,000 per year. This is just not acceptable.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I didn’t attend a name-brand school because neither my parents nor me cared about that. We all cared about two things: did the school provide a good educational experience to the students attending the institution, and did the faculty care enough about their students to help them? I entered my choice of school (Wilkes College (now Wilkes University)) of Wilkes-Barre, PA, during the summer of ’76 so that I could not only learn how to be a college student by attending classes in my intended major (History), but also to learn how to handle being a dorm student: awakening on my own, studying on my own, eating on my own, getting to classes by myself, taking exams and doing college-level term papers. I also had the benefit of getting tutoring in how to read college-level textbooks. By the time I finished summer school, I felt ready to really enroll as a freshman and enjoy meeting new people. Four years later, I emerged with a BA degree in Political Science (I discarded History as a major by my sophomore year) and I was also a student leader par excellence. As for getting choice internships, my bosses didn’t really care what school I went to; they wanted to know whether I could do their work. The first internship showed my first boss that the answer to that question was No, because I was ignorant on decorum in meetings and how to write legislation. The second internship demonstrated that I could do the work, but I still needed some polish about dressing properly for attending court (I worked for the Luzerne County DA’s office). Good experiences in both cases never hurt anybody. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yep– still as good. I’ve seen more parents I know go through the process this year. It’s subtle, but I think there’s a slight slight slight shift in attitude happening. It’s just SO freaking expensive I think people are letting go of some preconceived ideas of what the college choice “should be.” Maybe there is hope?


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