College lasts four years, don’t waste eighteen on admissions

Maxime Kawawa-Beaudan

To the Redwood students and parents playing the college game: The average life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years! And, check my math on this, but a four-year college only takes up four of them.

While those four years may be important, they certainly do not play a more significant role than a social life or a childhood in shaping someone to be a well adapted adult. So don’t waste the first 18 years of your life, or as a parent, your kid’s life, trying to get them into a college where they’ll spend just four years.

According to a 2011 Pew Research survey, 64 percent of Americans believe that parents don’t put enough pressure on students to excel academically. Obviously, their surveyors did not visit Redwood High School, whose school profile showed that 97 percent of students in 2014 planned to go to college and 80 percent of students planned to attend a four-year university.

This may be reflective of the drive that can be found among students in Marin, but a significant amount stems from parent pressure. Of course, good parenting means bringing down the hammer when you need to. It means expecting that your child excels academically because you see value in education––not because you hope it will get them into college. It means teaching your children that academic success is less about natural intelligence and more about work ethic.

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But it doesn’t entail forcing your child into a pair of cleats they know they’ll never grow into, or stuffing them into a jersey they’ll never feel at home in, all in the name of building a college résumé. It doesn’t mean forcing them to take five Advanced Placement classes their junior year and three summer courses at the College of Marin.

The truth is that, in the long run, where you go to college is less important than what you do in college. So, why be miserable for 18, or even just four years, simply to beef up a college application?

Even in terms of employment, going to a brand-name college matters relatively little. Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger, economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research, performed an experiment in 2011 in which they compared the salaries of 19,000 college graduates who had gone to universities of varying levels of selectiveness. They found that the prestigiousness of the universities had little to no effect on the amount of money the graduates were earning.

Additionally, reinforcing an exaggerated importance of getting into a selective school not only increases the stress of everyday life for at least the four years of high school, but may very well set students on the wrong path. After spending a large portion of high school working ceaselessly to enter college, students may realize they have no idea what they truly want to pursue, having only taken courses in high school which would gain them entrance.

Now, to the students themselves —academics are preparation for life. They should not, however, replace one’s life. There is no sense to wasting away on sleepless nights, poring over notes and textbooks. That is not the purpose of education, nor should it be how learning is performed.

There is a pervasive attitude in many students at Redwood that college is the most important thing in the world. It’s not. I will not point at Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, and say, “See, you don’t need to go to college to do well!” because one also has to take into account the multitudes of dropouts who aren’t billionaires, and I assure you that there are significantly more of these.

But keep in mind the simple fact that college is only four years of your hopefully 79-year life. Certainly, you may learn a lot in those four years, but it will not define the sixty, seventy, or maybe even eighty years you spend after college unless you allow it to.

So don’t waste your only teenage years on parental expectations. It’s your life and your education, not theirs.

A final word to the parents: It’s not up to you to manage your child’s life, but rather to guide them in the right direction. Teenagers need nudges, not shoves.

One thing is certain—while four years at that “lower tier” college won’t damage your kid as much as you think, 18 years of you shoving the word “résumé” down their throats certainly will.