As a college counselor, I have lost track of how many times I have been asked, “How do I get into Stanford?” or that a student needs help getting into Harvard, or some other insanely selective school that only accepts 5% of its applicants. These are fair questions, but I think they miss the point. Yes, these colleges have incredible reputations and afford their students spectacular opportunities to learn. But before our students stay up all night, every night, working tirelessly to get in: ask if these schools are the right fit.
A parent forwarded me an article about the most popular class at Yale, which teaches students how to be happy (hint: read the article—it is very insightful). I think it is fantastic that a school like Yale teaches students about happiness, and equally depressing that we have gotten to the point that we do not know how to be happy. Many of the students who are in the class probably have worked since they were in diapers to get into Yale, only to realize when they arrive there that the status alone is not enough to make them happy.
It is not just an Ivy League problem. According to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 52 percent of students reported feeling hopeless, while 39 percent suffered from such severe depression that they had found it difficult to function at some point during the previous year.
This is not acceptable.
We must work with our kids to ensure that they attend a school that is healthy for them and build them up to enjoy it when they get there. Factors relevant for mental health include location, proximity to home, weather, competition and class difficulty, access to resources and activities that excite and motivate students, and an ability to fit in.
There is no perfect school for any one of our students. A student can achieve her goals wherever she attends so long as she is happy. Not every day of college will be a happy day, and that is OK. Finals are stressful. Living with a stranger in a dorm room smaller than a closet can be stressful. But learning how to overcome these challenges and smile along the way is a priceless part of a college education.
There is no right answer to “What college will make me/my child happy?” In high school, focus on developing passions that will guide our students when they arrive at college. Prioritize our students’ well-being and have honest conversations about which colleges and programs are the best fit.
Wishing your entire family happiness and enjoyment along the way.