I attend the parent nights at my daughter's high school,
and I listen to everyone talking about the competition for college. All our friends keep bringing up the test preparation courses and private tutors and
college counselors they're using. I can't help but ask, is this really what it's come
to? My daughter is a good student but she's not at the top of her
class. I'm wondering if I'm being naive in thinking that she will
still get into college."
You're not being naive at all. The vast majority of students who start college every year weren't at the top of their classes. They didn't take expensive test prep courses, hire tutors, or have the guidance of a college counselor. We've got over 2,000 colleges in this country and all but about a hundred of them accept pretty much everyone who applies.
But too many kids and parents mistakenly believe that the more selective colleges are somehow better than the less selective ones. So a lot of good kids who work hard believe that the only acceptable reward for their efforts is an admissions to one of those supposedly elite colleges. That's why you're seeing the kind of behavior you've witnessed.
I'm not against kids working hard and placing value on their educational futures–smart, mature kids should do that. And I think that good tutors, test-preparation courses and college counselors can add value for some families. But nobody's success or failure in life is determined by an admissions decision from a particular college. A student's work ethic, desire to learn, her personal qualities and her willingness to extract the maximum value from her college experience are much more important than the name of the college she'll attend.
So, no, what you're seeing isn't necessarily what college admissions has come to be. It's what the race for admission to the schools most likely to say "No" has come to be. Kids and parents get to make the choice whether or not you want to participate in that race. And I don't think it's a very healthy race to run.
Thanks for your question, Duncan. If you've got a question of your own, email us at blog [at] collegewise [dot] com.