The Higher They Rise the Farther They Fall

There are so many things wrong with the college admissions scandal, FBI code name ‘Varsity Blues’, that has ensnarled the elite. If your run-of-the-mill ethically-questionable $2.5 million donation to Harvard by Jared Kushner’s father wasn’t enough, parents photoshopping their kids faces on athletes for guaranteed admissions is the bulls-eye of moral decrepitude. And an activity that will send many of these parents to jail.

What Sets Kids up for Success?

We know the story and idea of hundreds of parents participating in a corrupt scheme is terrible. So instead of rehashing the obvious, we decided to ask our network for their thoughts on the bigger question of kids and college success. What really matters? What will set our children apart? How can our kids succeed in the world that places so much value on being associated with the right ‘brand’ of school?

how small to succeed at school

Here’s what we heard:

Be Best

Ah, a little nod to Melania Trump’s campaign there! But actually, in this case, the slogan has solid meaning. Our kids need to go to a school that will make them the best at something. That should be obvious, but somehow we’ve come to believe that simply having attended a competitive school is some sort of golden ticket. Many of our peers who are the most questioning of this notion are those with Ivy League degrees themselves. A friend with a BA in art history, for instance, told us that she felt as if going to a good school was not enough. She had given such little thought to her major at a time when just having a liberal arts education was much lauded. But it didn’t amount to much professionally or financially.

In an age of constant advancement and change, sending our children to the place where they will learn the most is what’s right. And what is considered ‘the best’ is a much bigger playing field today. For instance, of the top 50 global physics BA programs, quite a few are state universities, not just Ivies.

Have a Side Hustle

There is a lot of talk about ‘side hustles’ as they relate today’s workforce. It seems to go something like ‘hey I’m an accountant by day and my side hustle is as a social media influencer’. But, actually, this is an important one for parents to consider. Our children are entering a world where they won’t just have multiple careers in succession; they will have multiple jobs all at once.

A study by Adobe (found in the link above) suggests that having a second job (or more) can make one happy. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed who reported ‘moonlighting’ were notably happier than their peers. As the notion of working has become increasingly flexible it’s not surprising that people would also embrace the structure and security of a ‘regular job’. Being entrepreneurial can come at high risk, so good sometimes to keep on the side. And for our kids this will mean encouraging them to pursue  multiple skills and passions at once.

The Power of Both Sides of The Brain

A fellow GenXer reminded us of how we were encouraged to study humanities OR science. You could even swap out a math requirement for an art one at elite schools in the 80s and 90s. But isn’t there a continuum between the two areas? This Cambridge University 1959 lecture by chemist and writer CP Snow lays out the argument brilliantly. Elite education in one skill is detrimental to advancement of all. And while not much has changed, it’s something to consider as we prep our children for success. And it’s, again, a reminder that we need to focus on what children learn not just where. Brains needing to fire on all cylinders need lighting from many places.

creativity is as important as science

Light a Fire in the Belly

One of our favorite parenting books is The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Stixrud PhD and Ned Johnson. You want to give your children an advantage, asks the authors. Then give children autonomy and a passion. Pressure, micro-management and a narrow ability to choose is what harms our children. They are able to decide what they want and how to achieve it. All by themselves. Wealthy parents deciding where their kids will go to school and how they will get in, is worse than counter-productive, it’s a losing proposition.

Commit to Lifelong Learning

If you want to read more about where the world of work is going, forget the college admissions scandal and instead read this World Economic Forum 2016  report. It’s called the ‘Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills, and WorkForce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.’  The 167 pages of wisdom should be key reading for all of us.  But especially as you panic about your child’s future, consider this (heard before but worth repeating):

In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.1 In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends—and to mitigate undesirable outcomes. (World Economic Forum, ‘Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills, and WorkForce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’)

And with the inability to know what the future holds it is sad to think, for some, like actress Felicity Huffman, we do know that it will likely mean jail. That’s not the type of sacrifice any parent should be making to get their kids into college.

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