Hard Work Doesn’t Always Pay Off

Rachel Simmons’s article “Tell Kids the Truth: Hard Word Doesn’t Always Pay Off” in the July 1 issue of Time Magazine is a useful reality check for parents. While this article isn’t specifically about college admissions, Rachel’s insights made me think of the challenge of managing expectations during the application process.

Teachers and parents everywhere tell their students to work hard, get straight A’s, take lots of AP classes, and get top test scores. Do this, and your college dreams will come true. Colleges fuel this mindset, sending their slick brochures and personalized letters. “Dear (name), you have been selected for priority…”

High expectations start even earlier, often in middle school and sometimes even in elementary, with students wearing their favorite college sweatshirt on “college day.” In one of my creative writing workshops, a 7th grader in a USC sweatshirt told me he was going there. Not that he would one day apply to USC. Nope. He was definitely going there.

The unfortunate reality is that college admissions is unpredictable and often misleading. A first step in deciding where to apply is researching the college’s admissions criteria. If you meet their minimum GPA and test score requirements, you qualify for admissions, right? Wrong. It means, you qualify to apply. Colleges like USC admit just a tiny percentage of those who apply–and everyone who applies will have roughly the same GPA and test scores as you do!

Rachel’s article is about what we can (and cannot) control. It opens with a star college athlete upset about her performance on the field. Rachel writes, “This student, like many I teach, believes she should be able to control the outcomes of her life by virtue of her hard work.”

It’s the same with admissions. All through high school, students are in control. They decided what classes to take, what sports to play, what clubs to join. Many approach college applications with the same excitement. They are choosing a college, but actually the college chooses you!

The bottom line is that students (and parents, and teachers, and counselors) have zero control over the college admissions process. Following the right steps doesn’t guarantee success. As Rachel Simmons explains in her article, “you can do everything in your power and still fail.”

Parents, I know we all want the best for our kids. Just please keep in mind that the college application process is an emotional roller coaster. It will be filled with exciting acceptances and crushing rejections. Adjusting your expectations (and helping your kids adjust theirs) will help you prepare for the bumpy road ahead. Good luck!


Thanks for sharing!

Author: Alison

Alison Cotter helps individuals tell their story. Whether it's a college application essay or a personal memoir, Alison guides her clients through the process of finding their story and getting it on paper.

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