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The Work-Life Equation Ep. 29: The Truth About Varsity Blues

The Work-Life Equation Ep. 29: The Truth About Varsity Blues

Today’s post was written by Bright Horizons Director of Brand Storytelling, Lisa Oppenheimer.

As parents, we all raise our kids thinking the secret to getting into a good college is to study hard.

Then the admissions scandal comes along and we find out that the real secret is photo shopping your kid’s head on to the body of a rower so children can get a crew scholarship for a sport they never played.

And we all just get sad.

Welcome to Varsity Blues.

That parents should try to pay their kids’ way into top colleges seems the least surprising news since Warner Huntington III (Legally Blonde) got dad’s help to get into Harvard Law. “He got waitlisted,” Vivian told Elle Woods.

But here’s the good news – it doesn’t have to be that way. Following her tour of the morning shows, our resident expert and College Coach VP Elizabeth Heaton stopped by our Work-Life Equation podcast to inject some sanity back into the conversation. Kids don’t need a sports avatar and a ghost tester to get into college, she told us. They can do it the old fashioned way – with a well thought-out list and a good essay.

Really, we’re all focused on the wrong things anyway, Elizabeth says. Breaking the law to get into a particular college (a bad idea on so many levels) comes from the notion that only certain schools matter. “There seems to be this idea that you must go to a school that has a high ranking …that all success in life stems from attending that higher-rank school,” says Elizabeth of the annual U.S. News and World Report that makes us all nutty. But it’s just not true.

A well-known sticker on the car window may win the contest with your relatives at Thanksgiving. But what really matters is what your students do when they get to school – any school. And parents can help by encouraging important things – like good study skills, commitment, and meaningful activities.

And despite what you’ve heard, “meaningful” on a college application doesn’t have to be curing a disease…or an IPO. Elizabeth was an admissions officer at an Ivy League school and her rule for her own high schooler is just that he has to commit to an activity — one per season. “If you’re a parent and your kid hasn’t found their thing yet and that is causing an incredible about of stress for you,” she told us, “I would really let that go.”

When it comes time for applying, make a list of schools that make sense — both in cachet and cost. Back when she went to school, Elizabeth’s second-choice college racked up a fraction of the debt she would have paid at her dream school. The financial freedom turned out to be priceless. “If I had $25,000 in debt I don’t even think I could have been living on my own when I graduated from college,” she said. Encourage students to make a list of only schools they like, she told us, and they could go to any of them and be happy.

Finally, when the stress gets to you (and it will), keep repeating the mantra: “My child will go to college, my child will go to college.” No bribery required.

“Take a breath,” she told us. The country has 3,000 schools, many admitting more students than they turn away,” she said. “Your kids are going to get into and go to college. So you shouldn’t be that worried about that.”

Take a listen to this episode and let us know what your experiences have been like with the college admissions process.

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