Don't Hide All Your Failures on Apps

<p>Angel Perez of VP and Dean of Admission and FA at Pitzer wrote an interesting editorial:</p>

<p>Education</a> Week: Want to Get Into College? Learn to Fail</p>

<p>My favorite quote from the article: "I was stunned and delighted recently when a student sat across from me at a Starbucks in New York City and replied, "I look forward to the possibility of failure." Of course, this is not how most students respond to the question when sitting before the person who can make decisions about their academic futures, but this young man took a risk.</p>

<p>"You see, my parents have never let me fail," he said. "When I want to take a chance at something, they remind me it's not a safe route to take. Taking a more rigorous course or trying an activity I may not succeed in, they tell me, will ruin my chances at college admission. Even the sacrifice of staying up late to do something unrelated to school, they see as a risk to my academic work and college success."</p>

<p>This dilemma is not a new insight for all of us old-timers on CC, but it's good to recycle topics now and then as a reminder to ourselves and for new parents. There seems to be a delicate balance between being the high-achieving sort of student who can gain admission to a top school and presenting that successfully on an application, and yet not sacrificing potentially broadening but risky educational and extra-curricular challenges in the process. No doubt all of our kids have had to weigh the merits of investing in an activity they knew would lead to success of some kind, versus doing something they simply want to do for fun or something they realize they probably won't ever be good at. While it's great what he says, I'm not sure a resume full of things like "I tried playing tennis for a couple of years and realized I was still almost as inept at the game as when I started, so I quit." is going to impress any one. Also, are the college application essays about a failure and what the student learned from it old hat now too?</p>

<p>Our entire society takes fewer and fewer risks. We carry Purell around, not that our kids need it because they're not playing outside unless they're in closely supervised structured activities. Usually wearing protective gear and helmets.</p>

<p>Their homework is graded according to a rubric that they've seen beforehand, so they can write to the prompt.</p>

<p>Even if we don't implant GPS chips in them, we're tethered by phone 24-7. Remember the flap about the NY mom who let her kid take the subway home all by himself in the middle of the day?</p>

<p>Oh pulllease. One of a pile of gatekeepers that maintains and sustains this insanity so kids can no longer actually pursue their real interests, take risks, do creative things that might not be visible on a resume but that make them a better human being...yet now he wants to criticize the bad outcome he's helped to create. </p>

<p>You'll notice he's not excited about someone who failed, he's excited about someone who failed <em>but then succeeded</em>. He's looking for the kid who not only was probably super successful on all facets, but admits a singular failure, who can then repeat like a parrot what any 12th grader would know what to say about it, AND then repeated it so he overcame it. How is this risky?</p>

<p>How about applauding the kid that took a risk, and failed, period. Someone who took a risk and ended up worse off in terms of objective outcomes because they took the risk? </p>

<p>Now if this gets around, you'd see tons of kids and their handlers pushing kids to find a thing they can 'fail at but overcome' to look good on a resume. :) You know, how high achievers on paper have to also look like they don't work too hard at it, are only doing it for the passion, and, now, took risks and 'failed' along the way while achieving greatness. </p>

<p>Give me a break. This man hasn't lessened the frenzy, he's just added to it. </p>

<p>The REAL point of this article should be that you know, it IS not only okay but fantastic if kids take risks, do things that don't look good on a resume, nor give them something to write about, nor demonstrate leadership or commitment or character or some other kind of 'college app' value...but that are just purely fun, engaging, interesting, and <em>develop them as a person</em> (be it creativity, or allowing their mind and body to rest, or let them go in directions that they can only go as a young person, shaping their brain and who they are as a person during a period when it matters most).</p>

<p>My son wrote his college essay about running for student body president and not being elected. He made it witty and interesting and was accepted everywhere he applied. Of course, he also had great stats and LORs but I think his approach to risk-taking was seen as refreshing.</p>

<p>Every admissions person has pretty much said the same thing, do NOT write a 43 page (yes the one school got one that was 43 typed pages) about how wonderful you are. They can see that on your application. They want the personal side of you, what makes you tick. Oh, and they don't want a letter prepared by a "personal counselor" either. They want YOUR words, your feelings, etc. If you have something odd on your transcript, why not write about that and the risk you took taking that class vs something else. It will show the school not only that you can think for yourself but also your thought process and how you reason things out.</p>

<p>starbright, you are 100% correct.</p>

<p>Yeah, I noticed that the first kid he talks about hadn't actually failed at anything yet--he just wanted the chance to. And the second kid did poorly in ONE class. I wouldn't imagine that an adcom would view a collection of bad grades on a report card as the student "challenging" himself.</p>

<p>The article reminded me of the joke about how to answer the job interview question: "What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?" "I'm too much of a perfectionist."</p>