12 April 2019
"We need to encourage our students not to pursue a university because it fits our formula for them but to find the one that is right for them, the one that is best for them, the one that helps them pursue their passions and dreams for their careers and life."
Many of you are probably aware of the university admissions scandal that has grabbed news headlines around the world in the past few weeks. Currently, over 50 famous and wealthy people (including Hollywood actresses) in the United States have been arrested and charged with fraud and bribery related to steps they took to get their children accepted to top tier universities and colleges. This involved elaborate ways to cheat on the SAT and ACT to increase test scores, bribing college faculty, and even fake sports scholarships to these prestigious schools for students who did not even play the sport. Some of these parents paid up to $500,000 dollars to get their child accepted. Universities involved included Harvard, Yale, USC, UCLA, Stanford, and a number of other highly selective and prestigious schools. There is a good possibility that a number of these parents will actually face jail time for the crimes they have committed.
One of the reasons that this has even happened is that these parents have bought into the idea that for their children to be successful and happy in life they must attend one of these prestigious colleges. They are happy to pay any amount and to even commit crimes because they believe in the formula that says these universities are not only needed but required for their children to succeed. But before we criticize them for their actions, we must be careful not to throw the first stone. Many of us believe in this same formula to some degree and have encouraged it in different ways.
What many who believe strongly in this formula do not know is that numerous studies done by universities and research organizations like Gallop and Pew show that “you’ll do equally well in terms of income, job satisfaction and life satisfaction whether you go to an elite private college or a less-selective state university.” (Time Magazine) New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a book called Where You Go is Not Who You’ll be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania that talks about how parents have become obsessed with getting their children into these schools because they believe it will almost guarantee life success and high earning potential. He uses information and statistics to try help people see that this is not necessarily true. He points, for example, to the CEO’s of the top 10 companies in the U.S. and shows that only one came from a “top tier” school and that most of them attended state schools for their undergraduate degrees.
As with our discussion about good grades, what I am not saying is that we should stop encouraging students to aspire to top universities. What I am saying, though, is that we need to stop promoting the idea that students must get into these kind of schools to be successful in life. The undue pressure, stress, and anxiety we can put on our children because of this idea, this formula, is wrong. We have unwittingly tied their self-worth and identity to whether or not they can get accepted to a school deemed worthy by rankings, traditions, and other matrices. There are amazing universities in the U.S and around the world that many will not even look at because they are not prestigious enough. We need to encourage our students not to pursue a university because it fits our formula for them but to find the one that is right for them, the one that is best for them, the one that helps them pursue their passions and dreams for their careers and life.
Written by Karl Steinkamp
Recent Reflection Articles
Let’s create a culture that encourages excellence and doing well academically, but one that does not make grades the only purpose of school and elevate them to an unhealthy level.
If there is one thing to take from the discussion so far, it is that we cannot boil down the idea of preparation for life to just getting good grades.
Over the years of the ever-evolving educational systems around the world, we have all agreed to subtly, or maybe even overtly, accept a formula for the good life or successful life.