This article published recently in the New York Times addresses concerns that many parents have about when to begin to talk with their children about college. Every day parents talk to us about the pressure they feel in trying to prepare their children’s academic resume for college. This article presents the views of some educators that say children need to begin choosing colleges as early as first grade, they need to take the right classes in elementary school to have the top academic resume in high school, and building endurance is important for them to be competitive in the college market (forget moving from band to something new in eighth grade because “it shows”). It is no wonder parents feel this pressure and begin to panic.This article also presented a recent study that showed the rate of affluent students completing a bachelor’s degree has doubled since 1970. On the other hand, the rate of low-income students completing a bachelor’s degree has increased very little. While some educators praising the importance of the very early academic resume were from affluent private schools, some were not. They were from low-income areas and their goal was to show their students that college is important and attainable.
We can tell you that as the years pass the pressure parents feel to push their children to achieve an impeccable academic resume continues to increase dramatically. They want to make sure their kids have all of the choices possible when launching into adulthood. However, there is a limit. We both have private practices full of teens who are feeling extremely anxious about not achieving every possible thing that “looks good on a college application.” Many of them cancel or decline social invitations, feel exhausted all the time and dread getting any schoolwork handed back because it just reminds them their grades are not good enough. Other students feel like they are a continuous disappointment their parents because they are not achieving those high standards. We also see many students who obtained the academic resume for a highly competitive college, but did not make it past the first year. That was not the intention of their well-meaning parents. As psychologists we can tell you that most students are not Ivy League bound. It does not mean they aren’t “smart enough” to go there, it is just isn’t a fit to their talents and interests. There are many types of colleges and post-graduate programs out there. Children and teens of all ages can and should be exposed to all of those options and they should be presented as just that. Lots of options.Here is an alternative view posted one week later by Kristin O’Keefe, an author who writes for Motherlode: Living the Family Dynamic, a New York Times blog.
There are a lot of options for post-high school education and many paths to lead there. While it is too early for elementary school children to choose what college they are going to, it is never too early to introduce your kids to the options, listen to others talk about colleges and careers, and even take a walk on some college campuses. Show them what the options are. Teach them to think by being conscientious about identifying a goal, researching a plan to meet that goal, and identifying ways to fulfill that plan. There is something for everyone. When the time comes students and parents need to step-back and choose the program that is the right fit for the student.
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