John Katzman, the former CEO of The Princeton Review, has always said that he judges tests by the behavior they inspire. The SAT is a bad test because it inspires kids to study test preparation–knowledge that is only useful on the SAT. AP US History is a better test because it inspires kids to study US History, which is arguably more important than SAT questions like "What is the greatest number of regions into which the shaded region can be divided with exactly two straight lines?"
The behavior that a goal inspires tells you a lot about the goal. If you're so obsessed with cooking that you take three cooking classes over the summer, your goal is inspiring good behavior. If you're so obsessed with hanging out with the popular kids that you try to become something you're not, well, that's not so good.
College admissions works the same way. A lot of kids make their educational goal to get into a "good college." So they obsess about their GPAs and forget to find the joy in learning. They spend way too much time and money on test prep instead of reading or playing the tuba or spending time with family and friends. They grade grub, count their community service hours, and pick their activities based on what they think colleges will like. They're stressed, sleepy, and maybe even a little scared by the whole process.
That goal isn't inspiring good behavior.
Some kids make their goal to find the right college where they can learn, have fun and make discoveries about themselves. They work hard in high school but are also quick to tell you what their favorite class or teacher is. They commit themselves to activities they care about and love what they're doing. They want to learn as much as they can about different colleges because they know there are far too many choices to believe that only the famous ones could be right for them. And most importantly, they're happy, optimistic, well-rested and eager to see what waits for them on the other side of high school.
So, what kind of behavior is your college admissions goal inspiring? And if you're a parent, what behavior is your goal inspiring in your student? If you don't like the behavior, it might be time to choose a different goal.