The unpublished law of parenting is that you should want your kids to have more than you had. It's a good law, one that makes parents work hard and sacrifice for the betterment of their children.
But this law causes a lot of problems when it comes to kids applying to college today.
A generation ago, just sending your student to college, any college, meant you'd probably given your kid more than you'd had. In doing so, you'd virtually guaranteed your children a path towards better career opportunities and upward mobility that would never have existed without a college education.
So, what's "more" than that?
For many of today's parents, the act of simply going to college doesn't feel special. You did it, and a lot more people are going to college today than were doing so when you applied.
So in the hope of wanting more for your kids, parents start to think about "good" colleges for their kids, "better" colleges, famous colleges with the allure of prestige. Those schools seem like the next step, the most secure pathway to a happy and successful life. But it's often a misguided goal, and one that can ruin the college admissions process for your family.
Working and saving to send your kids to college is entirely in a parent's control. But molding your student into one that will supposedly be appealing to selective colleges is not in your control. The fact that many of those colleges accept only 10-15 of every 100 students who apply is also not in your control. Even the most well-intentioned parents can't influence the admissions decisions that colleges make.
So parents worry. Some get over-involved. Some pick activities for their kids and write their kids' college essay. The college admissions process becomes something loaded with fear and frustration for the entire family. Parents take on the pressure of feeling that if your kids aren't accepted by the more selective colleges, you've somehow failed to give them more.
But there's a key distinction here that many parents could benefit from knowing. There is still an ocean of difference between life with a college degree and life without one. But there is no guaranteed difference between a life with a degree from a famous school and life with a less famous school's degree.
Famous colleges are not the "more" you're looking for. It's not something you can just give your kids, and even if you could, it doesn't necessarily offer the outcome you're hoping for. If you want to give your kids more than you had, change their experience of applying to college into one with more excitement and opportunity than you enjoyed in yours.
Celebrate with your kids just how many colleges (over 2000) there are from which to choose. Let your past enjoyment of your own college experience be contagious. Be a supportive spectator, one who doesn't take over the process for your student, but one who knows how to encourage and cheerlead along the way. Help your student make the most of the opportunity to select colleges that are a good fit, not just those that are close or cheap or happen to say, "Yes."
You won't just be giving them the opportunity to attend any college. You'll be given them the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of schools, and the chance to do so with a supportive and knowledgeable parent by their side. You'll be embracing a goal that you can influence, one that will make you and your kids happier.
And most importantly, you'll be still be abiding by the law of parenting and giving your kids more than you had.