Every student has unique personal and academic characteristics and his or her own story and path to success. High school students apply to college with a wide variety of interests, skills, capacities, and talents. In order to encourage, promote, and showcase these individual traits and experiences, they need love, support, limits, and a safe environment to develop their full potential.
The development and preparation process are often slow and unpredictable. There is no blueprint for maturity. Every student is different, and every student brings something different to the table of higher education. Therefore, it is essential for us as adults and supporters to provide them with the patience and encouragement needed for them to mature into resilient, caring, and purposeful adults.
Our current fast-paced, high-pressure culture can be a detriment to such development and often works against much of what we know about healthy child development and effective education. The overemphasis on grades, test scores, and rote answers has stressed out some kids and marginalized many more. We all want our kids to excel in school and master certain skills and concepts, but our singular focus on academic achievement has resulted in a lack of attention to other components of a successful life—the ability to be independent, balanced, inquisitive, and engaged critical thinkers. My work with students helps foster learners who are healthy, motivated, and prepared for a robust and satisfying college experience and beyond.
Our collective efforts should focus on helping our exceptional students grow as people as well as guiding them to be the most prepared and competitive college applicant possible and ultimately attend the college of their dreams. My work is based on inspiring students to gain a better understanding of who they are and what they want. We need to remember that academics are only a part of the whole picture – our students are more than a report card or a test score. A more holistic approach (which the best colleges support and agree with) is to help students become more enlightened and interesting young women and men through personal development, self-discovery, and social and extracurricular activities. As a balanced and well-rounded applicant, admissions chances will increase, enabling them to get into the competitive schools which they apply. We should absolutely encourage them to challenge themselves academically (five AP classes may not be appropriate); however, the college process is also a perfect time for students to learn to take initiative in the other aspects of their lives (social and leadership skills) and find and explore interests and opportunities outside of school. These skills are just as important, if not more so, than grades and test scores.
Students who are excelling academically should feel extremely proud of themselves and take pride in the discipline and motivation they demonstrate (playing less video games is a big step/adjustment for many students). These habits and work ethic will serve them well in college and their careers, but encouraging them to identify ways for them to use their time outside of school and studying (summer activities) is critical. That said, I believe we want them to enjoy themselves in meaningful activities that will give them joy and satisfaction. Activities in which they are most interested will be the most rewarding and the ones they will share with and write about for colleges. If students participate in boring activities because of obligation and thinking they “should”, they will not be personally satisfied and will have little to share with prospective colleges. Many students seem frustrated with this concept, and we need to ease their frustrations by letting them know it is more than okay to be a teenager.
Regardless of what they choose to do, they need to learn to take initiative and explore their own set of opportunities and activities. We will provide the support, but ultimately, they need to do the research, make the contacts and connections, follow up with phone calls and emails, and make it happen. This will help them tremendously in all of their future pursuits, especially applying to college.
It is inspiring and comforting to see how parents support their kids, and I am confident that my counseling philosophy is aligned with their thoughts and beliefs. While we all want the very best for our students (as they want the best), the pursuit of perfection and comparison to others can be dangerous. Furthermore, the colleges they want to attend (hopefully because they are the best places for them and not just a prestigious name) are highly selective and require a lot from their applicants. And encouraging them to maintain BALANCE and be WELL-ROUNDED, WELL-ADJUSTED, and HAPPY people who know who they are and what they want and is by far and away more important than where they get into college.
Students should never feel stressed out, overwhelmed, or feel inadequate and not good enough. As long as they do their best in the classroom and develop their personal interests and personalities, they will be admitted and attend the exact college they want. Students primary focus should be on becoming more than an extraordinary student. Showing colleges their social and personal characteristics and experiences and being an extraordinary person with an interesting story to tell story to tell is what will get them into the nation’s top colleges and universities.