A Stressed Mom Speaks Out
(A version of this story was first published anonymously by a mom in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow.)
Can I just come in here and be a little real? I’m tired on behalf of my kids and want them to be able to get off this crazy train of preparing for college. But I’m afraid to take them away from the rigorous academic experience they’ve known.
My children are not quitters, they’re just tired, too. Telling them to cut back and be less competitive would be difficult because we’d both fear they’d be missing out in some way. But teens need free time. I wish colleges would stop perpetuating toxic expectations.
There are very hard-working and intelligent children who don’t need to be swamped with so many responsibilities during the prime of their childhood. I don’t condone laziness and easy work. Still, kids shouldn’t have to take a million classes, save the earth, feed the homeless, hold a job, run a club, etc.
I don’t have my kids in a ton of activities. It’s just one sport per child. No jobs, no other outside activities or charitable commitments. School fills up their hours. They’re efficient, intelligent students. But they study so much.
Perhaps not taking Advanced Placement or Honors classes would be the answer, but are we brave enough for this? Right now I don’t even want to think about SAT prep, or anything else that has to do with college admissions. I know there’s no real solution. Just needing to vent.
Our Community Responds
Parents seem to be split on whether or not it’s important to participate in the “crazy train” of college preparation, especially at the risk of losing out on other important student experiences.
Here’s what they had to say in response to this post:
Keep Options Open
Yes, there are some schools that require you to jump through hoops and be very competitive in the college prep journey, but they aren’t the only schools out there. Only the most selective colleges seem to require the rigor of additional classes, high test scores, and perfect GPAs, and families may focus too much on a small number of schools where these things matter most.
There’s a school for everyone, and students shouldn’t tailor their education to only the most competitive options.
Sam M. says that many institutions don’t expect students to be at the top of their class or have perfect test scores, and that there’s another way: “The trick is twofold: Find a school that offers your student’s chosen major. Then, confirm it’s a school you can afford. It may be time for a sit-down to discuss family values and goals, as well as hopes and dreams. There are ways to pull back and not run the rat race.”
Follow Your Student’s Lead
While it’s tempting to jump in and facilitate all the tasks that come along with preparing for college, many parents have taken a more child-led approach. They encourage the students to know themselves and their priorities so that they pick a school path that more closely aligns with their values. This means a more hands-off approach from parents, which can be hard, at times.
Jill S. emphasizes this: “Some people thrive on being swamped, and others don’t. Your kids should direct things (to an extent), and they will land where they’re supposed to.”
This means that a student who is highly competitive and driven may be more comfortable at a college that rewards these character traits. If your student doesn’t do well with this type of rigor and stress, it may be best to let them take a more relaxed approach, ending up at a quality school that doesn’t encourage or reward the highly competitive mindset.
Put Mental Health First
Most parents agree that student well-being should come first. Lisa A. put it simply and directly: “Do what is best for your kids. Get out of your head and stop comparing. If they are tired, they are tired! Nothing is worth anyone’s mental health.”
While there’s no one way to homeschool, Brigette D. shares that homeschooling solves the problem of an overscheduled education without sacrificing rigor. Her kids enjoy free time, social activities, volunteering, and the possibility of employment, all while completing homeschool coursework.
Other parents recommend homeschooling as a way to create a personalized education schedule, one with more balance than what they see in the traditional school setting. While it’s not an option for everyone, homeschooling is an alternative way forward.
Advice From a College Counselor
It can be hard for parents to separate their own anxiety and emotions from what’s really going on at school and in college admissions. Jennifer B, a PFC101 member, college counselor, and teacher, reminds parents that not everyone has a loaded resume. She’s seen kids with limited activities get into excellent schools with financial aid.
Jennifer’s recommendations are for kids to engage in class and participate in activities that make them happy. “Plenty of colleges out there very much want students who are resilient, able to make their own life interesting, and are excited to learn,” she says. “Schools need to fill their seats and would love to have them filled with kids who understand how to balance appropriate challenges with soul-feeding investments.”
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