THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS DEBATE MISSES THE POINT

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The recent college admissions scandal has clearly touched a nerve. But the story of elites using fraud to give their kids every advantage actually misses the point. Some parents might be trying to cheat their kids into success, but the world doesn’t work that way, and they’re actually doing their kids a big disservice.

What is the goal of parenting? To me, the answer is to raise successful adults. Everything that happens in childhood is preparation for the time when our kids must make their own way in the world, without our guidance and protection. Focusing on having successful children can be counterproductive. What good is youthful achievement if those kids aren’t prepared for the real world?

Parents who overly smooth their children’s’ paths are going to disadvantage their kids down the road, especially if they cheat to do so. Their kids will learn to expect things to be easier than they are. They won’t develop as much grit or resilience. There is a real danger those kids will feel like the world owes them one success after another — a feeling that must inevitably crash into reality like a brick wall. The world owes us nothing.

Young people need to learn to earn their achievements, and to understand that failure to reach a goal, like admission to an elite school, is just part of being human. We shouldn’t put too much stock in college admissions as a measure of achievement, either. Getting into any particular school is a crapshoot and it’s surprising that so many people expect admissions to be “fair.” Since when is the world fair?

Meanwhile, getting into the “right” school isn’t nearly as important as people think. As an employer, I have learned not to over-emphasize academic pedigree. Yes, students from very selective schools have some correlation with higher ability. But many other attributes are better predictors of a good hire. I’m looking for hard workers who are eager to learn and humble enough to accept lessons. I want to avoid transactional thinkers who are always focused on what’s in it for them. Too much help and unearned success probably steers young people toward an entitled attitude, rather than a humble one, and that’s not doing them any favors.

With high expectations and little clarity, it’s no wonder so many people end up feeling like the admissions process is unfair. But parents need to keep the real goal in mind: successful adults. From that perspective, they should be much less worried about Ivy League degrees and more focused on the parenting classics: building good character.

As a parent with one child in college and two more teenagers at home, I understand the stress. I want my kids to be ready for a complex and rapidly changing world. Some amount of stress and disappointment is just part of their training.

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