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Parents: Are You Putting Too Much College Pressure on Your Kid?

A list of red flags you should consider when talking about grades and getting in
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Getting into and going to college is a big deal — and it’s expensive. It’s no surprise, then, that parents often get caught up in the admissions process — sometimes as early as middle school — beyond offering a reasonable amount of guidance and support. The result is that parents can put unnecessary pressure on their kids as they help “position” them to get into the “best” colleges and universities. If this sounds familiar, or it’s something you’re worried you might be doing, the Making Caring Common project developed a list of questions you can ask yourself as your students begin thinking about college.  

  1. During dinner conversations, do you often talk about your child’s grades and college applications, forgetting to ask your child what they find interesting and fun about school? 
  2. When you meet with or contact your child’s teacher, do you ask primarily about grades and test scores? Do grades and test scores tend to crowd out discussions of whether your child seems to be enjoying school, is a good friend to others, and contributes to the classroom?
  3. Do you email or call your child’s teacher about assignments or grades more than once a month, even when your child is not having any problems (e.g., trouble completing homework, absence due to illness, etc.)? 
  4. Does your child sometimes not eat or sleep well because he or she is worried about not performing at a high level in school?
  5. Do you press your child to take certain courses or participate in extracurricular activities in which they have little interest, or which are stressful for them, for the sake of college applications? 
  6. Do you encourage your child to do certain community service projects that they are not interested in because you think these projects will be helpful for their college application?
  7. Do you sometimes allow your child to exaggerate or lie about the extent of their community service because it will help them get into a selective college?
  8. Do you ever encourage your child to apply to selective high schools or colleges based on prestige or commercial rankings, such as the U.S. News & World Report ranking, without considering whether the school is a good fit for your child’s personality and interests? 
  9. Do you ever see your child’s peers as competition in the college application process — for example, telling your child not to let others know where they are applying to college because others might apply to the same school and hurt your child’s chances of getting into the same college?
  10. Do you sometimes pressure your child to engage in substantial college preparation while they are on vacation (e.g., intensively studying vocabulary cards or math problems), instead of ensuring that they have ample time to relax or play? 
  11. Did you or do you plan to hire an SAT/ACT tutor or have your child take an SAT/ACT preparatory course before junior year of high school?
  12. When you visit colleges with your child, do you sometimes ask more questions than your child does on the tour or at the info session? 
  13. If your child was not accepted at a selective high school or college, would you be embarrassed? Would it affect your self-esteem?
  14. If your child received a bad grade on a test or assignment, would you feel responsible or like a failure? 
  15. Do you primarily visit and talk about highly selective colleges with your child, rather than a wide variety of colleges, including less selective ones? 
  16. Do you frequently think about whether your child is performing at a high level or will be accepted at a high-status college?

We also dipped back into the Usable Knowledge archives to offer a list of ways you can instead frame conversations about college and the admissions process with your children: The (Caring) Common Application.

Usable Knowledge

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