As often as I write here about the potential value of failure as both a life teacher and even a college admissions advantage, it’s one of those concepts that many families are uncomfortable embracing. I don’t blame them. They get so many messages about the need for college applicants to be perfect (they don’t need to be, but that’s often the message), it feels risky to do anything where they might feel like they could fail, and riskier still to actually admit or borderline celebrate that failure within a college essay or an application.
But this recent New York Times piece, On Campus, Failure Is on the Syllabus, shares how many colleges, including some that are quite selective, are going as far as to teach the value of failure. Even the skeptics might be interested to read the examples of kids so used to perfection that they can’t even handle not getting the room assignment they wanted, much less failing a test. Full disclosure, the author is a friend of mine, but I would have shared this even without that association.
I don’t see the concept of colleges acknowledging–and even teaching–failure as much of a stretch. Colleges want students who will not only work hard, but also avail themselves of the nearly limitless options for learning, growth, challenge, etc. during their four years on campus. Schools need students who are fearless in those pursuits, who accept that aiming high comes with the risk that you might fall short, who will not only resist the urge to crumble when something doesn’t go as they’d hoped, but also learn from those experiences and come back even more prepared the next time.
It’s those students, not those who huddle close to their comfort zones where success is more assured, who are most successful during and after college.
Failure due to lack of effort is one thing. Failure due to lack of fear is an entirely different—and more admirable—one.