That was nuts and I don't see how it doesn't damage the kids

Now that we’re half a year out from the whole circus I’m looking back, and holy crap, that was really terrible. The level of tension, the relentless, practically violent admissions and testing marketing at the kids, the unceasing demands that the kids make serious decisions about a whole lot of things they know nothing about…it’s the whole industry of adults who should know better and all the nutzoid parents all-capsing the kids for years. I feel scarred by it. It’s just dawning on me now what it must be like for the kids. Absolutely dreadful and wrong. I feel somewhat ashamed.

AP scores came out a while back and I haven’t asked what they were, nor will I. Her grades and scores are no longer my business. It’s up to her not to lose her scholarships, not exactly a reach, but if she needs help she can say so.

My kid’s going to the local flagship U, and I’ve told her to use the time to study and do things she actually cares about, with some commitment and without regard to what people are telling her about jobs. Fortunately, the school’s too threadbare to be very muscular about grabbing the kids and success-shouting at them, despite the honors program. I hope she has some good courses, finds things she wants to do, gets her mind shaped a bit by whatever discipline she cares for, gets some good student jobs, finds a couple of boyfriends (or girlfriends) along the way, makes a few solid friends, dances her brains out, does some growing up with her friends and gets to understand herself a bit better, learns to live with other people, does some things that are stupid but not irreversibly stupid, spends a little more time than she can afford on a study-abroad or in a nearby city, learns to grab opportunities she actually wants, comes home for dinner once in a while. Has college, in other words, and comes out without debt. And then goes and figures out how to make a living.

I’m aware that in important respects her life will be made harder by the fact that she won’t be at a top-whatever school strapped into a success car, and that it’ll have repercussions. That’s in the nature of the massive inequality that’s opened up in this society in the last few decades, that chasm between top tiny percent and the rest. And yet, and yet…I keep having this feeling that she accidentally dodged a serious bullet, and so did I. I feel a little shellshocked, looking back at that horrible process. I think we should all be ashamed of it, frankly, all us adults.


My oldest 2 are on bookends of college around the pandemic. One graduated HS in 2019, the next one due up in 2023. I feel for the kids that had to do this in 20 and 21. I still think it’s a bit crazy now in 22. We are seeing a rise in depression and anxiety in young adults. These people are struggling for so many reasons. I continually think of their mental health. We have kids trying to gain a single point or a certain score on some AP exam or standardized test and I don’t often see any benefit. College admissions have become such a mixed bag of “what ifs” and “who knows what they want.” I see these kids losing themselves to try to meet some obscure goal that may ultimately still reject them in the end.

I think these teens and young adults need to be taught to breathe and count their blessings.


I do not think that the advantage of attending a “big name” university is nearly as big as some would think. I used to know an MIT graduate who went into retail sales (at a well known chain that is long gone at this point). I also as an MIT graduate spent most of my career working for bosses who had graduated from their in-state public university. One of the best bosses that I ever had graduated from seminary school (and not a “big name” seminary school).

However, I do strongly agree that we put way too much stress on our kids related to high school and university. The differences IMHO between U.Mass Lowell, U.Mass Amherst, MIT, and Harvard (just to pick four example schools in the same state) are not worth the amount of stress that our kids go through.

Usually an excellent choice.


I have a S21 and D24. I really feel like S21 got a bit screwed last year. It’s liberating in a weird way since D24 is very pointy and much more vulnerable emotionally. Even if I pushed her to do more I’m not confident the “reward” would be there in the end. I know way too much about how it all works now and the limited control we really have over admissions. She will go to a decent 4 year college and do all those things you mentioned. She’s so smart and capable so I’m way more inclined to push a lot less this go around.


S22 brought it home to me, what we are doing to our kids. He works as a junior coach for a swim team. He said not a day goes by that 4+ people don’t ask him what his college plans are. That is separate from all of the conversations he is having with other ‘22s.

It is bad enough they are contending with so many bigger than themselves type issues- political, global, environmental, economic, pandemic etc etc - that they feel is on them to solve since it is the world they are inheriting, they are also supposed to have their lives mapped out and talk about these personal thoughts on demand. Enthusiastically and angst free. And do so without any impression of arrogance or under-estimation. Total strangers think it is a fun conversation. It isn’t. They are freaking out. They are exhausted from the most awful year, and are supposed to be full speed ahead. They just can’t.

He and his friends have each developed a spiel to be able to reply politely but not invite scrutiny. It is their only defense against the relentless pressure.

I can’t imagine how awful it feels to deal with that social dynamic and then come home to parents pointing out all of the virtual tours, exams and essays that still need to be done. I don’t want to be part of the problem. He can take a break for a few weeks. It will be ok if his essays aren’t started yet. Or he doesn’t know what his safety/match/reaches are yet. Or he doesn’t demonstrate interest. Or he rushes an application in the fall. He knows we believe he will thrive wherever he goes. We have told him we are here to take direction from him in how we can help. It is on him to ask. When we talk about college stuff, I try to filter it by asking myself does my comment contribute to what he needs or what I need? Don’t get me wrong, I am still obsessing. I just try to do my obsessing out of sight.

This whole thing is so dysfunctional. I just want him to get through it intact.


My kid wound up taking his (prestigious) early acceptance before Xmas, after realizing that he probably wouldn’t choose any other schools over that one, even if he were to have other acceptances. But he was also exhausted, and so stressed out that he’d started losing his hair, and had developed a severe case of TMJ, that still, 7 months later, has not completely resolved.

When the pandemic hit, and schools just shut down for the first couple of weeks, he couldn’t believe how good it was to just get enough sleep!

40 years ago, we read about the extremely competitive pressure cooker for Japanese high school students trying to get into top colleges. We’re now about the same.


My god! I hope the TMJ resolves soon. And yeah, my daughter also feels slightly guilty about having gotten sleep, so much sleep, out of the pandemic. I left her alone about it for a long time, but about a month after school ended I lost my mind at her slightly for doing nothing and treating the place as a hotel while I continued to slog away. I figure it makes a light impression now and will work its way into her psyche so that by age 30 she actually takes care of wherever she’s living.

We are two years out now, and I have the same feeling. It’s amazing to watch the cycle repeat itself on CC. At this time of year, the parents of the Class of 2021 are finally able to worry about fun things like dorm linens and lofting, but the parents of the Class of 2022 are angsting about where there kids are in the essay-writing process and the parents of the Class of 2023 are revving up to think about their kids’ college lists. It’s an enormous amount of work and stress, for both parents and kids, and you have to wonder how things got to this point. We were really lucky in being far from the center of things, although we benefitted a lot from the wisdom available here on CC. We live in Asia, and my son attended international schools where kids ended up going in all different directions. Probably fifty percent of his HS graduating class are in European colleges, where the criteria for admissions tend to be more transparent. So he wasn’t in the same kind of pressure cooker environment that I see described on here, where all the kids are uber-aware which schools are T20, etc. At the same time, I think my son benefitted from the more holistic approach in the US. He is an interesting, curious, well-rounded kid and it was my impression that the schools he applied to saw that and valued it. It’s sad to me to see so many people on CC, both parents and students, talking about kids as if they are just packages of “stats” and "ec"s. Obviously, that’s part of what the schools look at and it probably becomes more important as you move up the ladder of selectivity, so I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s efforts. But @parentologist hit on something above in talking about Japanese high schools. In Japan, it used to be the case, and to some extent it still is, that just getting admitted to a top college was the whole point and the actual college education that followed was not paid much attention - the kids were too burnt out from the “exam hell,” among other things. The US shouldn’t become like that - we need to make sure our kids still have some gas in the tank after emerging from the admissions process so that they can take full advantage of the wonderful opportunities the colleges provide.


Not downplaying the competitiveness of admissions in the US but giving some perspective to make you feel better. In India, a child’s whole life is decided by one exam. There is no “holistic review” or “institutional fit”. You give an exam with hundreds of thousands of other 17 year olds and your rank determines where and what you will study. The acceptance rates for the 40-50 decent colleges in the country are all below 5%. Add in caste based reservation and you lose your chance at a decent education unless you are a genius.
As an Indian student experiencing all this firsthand, I am sure that if you read up more on education in countries like India and China you’ll be grateful for the state of education in your country.
PS : I hope your son gets well soon


I feel you. My own kiddo (S22) is just not that interested in the college search. He doesn’t really know what he wants to do and is burnt out from the hell that was last year. His friends are the same. Instead of feeling excited about the process and the possibilities it is a source of more stress and anxiety for them.


I agree it has been an incredibly tough year and the college admissions process is a total grind. However I think as contemporary parents we tend to underestimate our kids resilience and over shield them from disappointment.

The sometimes seemingly randomness of admissions results, the “unfairness” of life during Covid and remote learning, etc are all building blocks for facing and responding to future adversity.

Not trying to minimize how hard it has been but suggest that some positives may come of it.

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We all lament the unnecessary competitiveness in college admissions and reminisce about the days when we grew up. How did we get to this point? It isn’t all becasue of demographics. The college admission process will get even worse next year, the year after, and the year after that,… irrespective of the demographic trend we’re on right now (which, by itself, may actually help relieve some pressure). There isn’t a perfect system in the world, but some are better than others. Perhaps we should start look across the pond, or at least north of the border, for some wisdoms.


O Canada! Pretty simple system. You either have the grades and the scores, or you don’t. No essays. I don’t even know if there were letters of recommendation. I don’t see that happening here soon, although California has often been the harbinger of societal changes which are coming for the rest of the country. The UC system got rid of racial preferences (and promptly saw its top schools deservedly go to nearly 50% Asian), but also has gotten rid of standardized test scores.

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A few Canadian universities (or some departments within these universities) do incorporate some holistic elements, but none to the extent of their US counterparts. UK probably has the best balanced system, IMO. There’s currently another active thread on CC on the UK system:

Actually, the ultra competitiveness is really limited to a relatively small pool of schools. Most colleges don’t have ultra competitive admissions - about 80% accept 50 percent or more of applicants. Those schools already rely primarily on grades/scores for admission. Of course, here on CC schools outside the top 100 (and I’m being generous here - it’s mainly top 50) might as well not exist since about 90% of the chatter has to do with all things “elite”. Preoccupation with “elite” schooling is mostly the purview of the upper middle class/wealthy - they make up the bulk of applications & admissions to these schools. Frankly, to me it doesn’t matter which privileged kid gets into Harvard – what worries me more is the dearth of opportunity for poor and under-represented kids who, by and large, aren’t even applying to these schools. How much academic talent is being overlooked through lack of exposure, nurture and opportunity?


Yes, but this thread is about kids who tried to get into more competitive colleges, not those that admit more than 50% of their applicants.

The thread is about the stress of college admission, not just another re-hash of the ills of holistic admission. I’ll be blunt, if you don’t like holistic admissions, don’t apply to schools where that is a significant factor. No student has to apply to top 50 schools - there are a lot of solid choices outside that group where admission criteria is more transparent. By and large, schools which emphasize holistic admissions the most are private – they can do what they want. No kid is entitled to admission to Harvard just because he/she/they get a certain gpa or test score.


This is spot on!

How could there be stress for the kids who applied to colleges that accept more than 50% of their applicants?

Allow me to be equally blunt. If your kids don’t test well, that’s not sufficient reason to be for holistic admissions.

The college application process to the elite schools, with its contrived criteria, is kind of ridiculous. I also think a lot of it is trying to virtue signal while feeding parents’ and kids’ egos and justifying extravagant tuitions that many families can not afford and will not see a good ROI on. If I had to pick one industry that will see the most change in the next 20 years, it would be higher education. The whole system feels like it is going off the rails.

For all the talk about educational environment and finding oneself and developing emotional maturity, a big part of college is simply preparing kids for getting jobs. I know a lot of great kids that are confident, quick on their feet, and make good decisions, and who I would recommend to any employer in a heartbeat once they get some skills. It doesn’t matter if they go to a state school with a compass point in its name, or an Ivy league. Kids can find themselves at almost any school.