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I read recently that 64 of 83 higher education institutions surveyed reported that anxiety on college campuses is increasing as measured by student usage of mental health services over the past three years.
It's lousy what we're doing to our kids.
My high schoolers have managed to keep well-rounded social lives against all odds under the ever-increasing pressure to vamp for colleges, but I see their friends buckling under the weight. One young friend of mine, a dream student at Sycamore HS excelling in Advanced Placement classes and SATs, said to her mother recently, "Is the rest of my life going to be as hard as this?"
A couple of years ago my then-high school senior declared that once she got to college she was going to finally relax a bit. Since freshman year she had been piling up the kind of grades and activities that might land her in a good college, calculating every summer what volunteering or camps or sports might help round out her resume. She got to college... and now stresses about racking up the grades that will get her into grad school.
So it was with mixed feelings that Daughter #2 and I took a swing through liberal arts colleges in New England recently. I have such fond feelings for my own college years that I want something just as great for her, but I also cringe to launch her into the college search rat race.
We learned the drill quickly. You arrive on campus around 10AM for the Campus Tour (led invariably by a high-spirited student who can imagine herself nowhere else), followed by the Information Session at 11 where an admissions officer explains that scores and tests don't really matter -- they're just looking for passionate students who will enrich the class. At this point you can watch the parents check for their wallets in unison.
Grab lunch in the campus town at the funky alternative sandwich shop and get to the next college for the 1PM Tour and Info Session. We settled into a groove -- two colleges a day, then zone out back at the B&B trying to remember, "Was that Wesleyan or Swarthmore?" Like a herd of cattle, we moved with other families through the circuit, unaware that we had fallen neatly into a well-trodden path. You could almost hear the admissions officers calculating, "If this is Wednesday afternoon, they're visiting their sixth college of the week," (though we ran into one manic family that saw 27 colleges in 5 days. I have to think they were indiscriminately touring everything that called itself a college, dental and mining schools included.)
A friend, watching me plowing through the Fiske Guide to Colleges years ago when my oldest began the process, told me that he thought most kids could be happy at most colleges. Somehow those words relieved the pressure building in my brain and I repeat them like a mantra whenever the process seems overwhelming. If you believe the statistics, colleges are all filled with a race of superhumans who leave your child in the dust.
Who are they and why don't I see them graduating and solving the problems of the world?