Dialing Down the College Craziness

Last week I posted this article on Magellan’s Facebook page (hey – have you “liked” that page yet?  We post lots of great tidbits there!).  Someone commented that it always seems that the people who write pieces like this, advising (sometimes admonishing) parents to dial back the pressure on high school students with regard to the colleges they aspire to attend, are themselves Ivy League (or top tier school) graduates.  Point well taken.  We understand the frustration.

Regardless of the messenger, the reality is that there’s a wealth of research out there about teens stressed out by the college admissions process – and at least part of that stress comes from their feeling like at some point they will disappoint their parents by not getting into the “right” college.  What a crushing feeling.

In a recent Washington Post article, education writer Jeff Selingo (who did his undergraduate work at Ithaca College – across the street from an Ivy League school but not one itself!), talks about how unnecessary the anxiety is.  The end result of college, after all, is to move on to graduate school or to get a job – and he quotes a Wall Street Journal study of 500 employers, reporting the top colleges from which they recruit new hires.  The list itself is interesting, but we would argue that because it measures volume – the number of graduating students from each school who gain employment at one of the 500 companies surveyed –  it only tells part of the story, leaving out smaller schools whose (smaller pool of) graduates are also successful.

When we visit smaller colleges, we try to talk with the career counseling office to see who hires their graduates and how active the college is in helping students find internships and jobs.  You can ask these question on your college visits too!

If you have 10 minutes, listen to this interview with Frank Bruni, the UNC-Chapel Hill (not Ivy League!) educated New York Times columnist whose 2015 book Where You Go Isn’t Who You’ll Be (referenced in Jeff Selingo’s article above).  Instead of lecturing us to calm down, Bruni tells the stories of students who aimed high – and felt defeated when their admissions dreams were dashed with rejection letters – lots of them – from colleges that send 90+% of their applicants that same letter.  No parent wants to stand by and watch their child hurt.  In fact, if you listen to this interview with Bruni, be sure to read the accompanying article all the way down to the end.  What a great letter from those parents!

And finally, if you have 20 more minutes, we strongly recommend you watch this talk by The New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell – a graduate of the University of Toronto (not even the Ivy League of Canada!).  Gladwell makes a passionate argument – also made in Chapter 3 of his book David & Goliath – that students actually should NOT attend the most competitive college to which they are admitted.  It’s a complicated calculus of psychology and reality – rising to the top of a class of hyper-competitive valedictorians and perfect-scoring-classmates at a top tier college proves, not surprisingly, to be harder and more mentally taxing than rising to the top of one’s high school class.

Our focus as independent college counselors is to try to make the process as organized and rewarding as possible, while minimizing stress.  While we LOVE helping students achieve their dreams and reach for tough schools, we also ensure that students – and parents – have a balanced approach throughout the time we work with them.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you’d like to discuss our process.



1 thought on “Dialing Down the College Craziness”

  1. YOU are the best! Thanks again for being able to articulate so clearly about this topic – and many more! I share your site often. So glad that we had the chance to share a road trip together a few years back and that I have you as a resource! Keep up the great work!!!!! Sheri

    On Thu, Apr 7, 2016 at 3:09 PM, Magellan College Counseling wrote:

    > ejalexander posted: “Last week I posted this article on Magellan’s > Facebook page (hey – have you “liked” that page yet? We post lots of great > tidbits there!). Someone commented that it always seems that the people > who write pieces like this, advising (sometimes admonishing)” >


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