Each year, graduating high school seniors all over the country receive a shock to their identities and self-worth when they are rejected from their "dream schools".
What do you mean I wasn't good enough?
As Ivies and Ivy-tier schools like Stanford University claim yearly, record-breaking admit lows, and as families (and many educators) continue feeding into the college admissions frenzy, the proverbial high school superstar's momentous extracurricular efforts and scholastic achievements are no longer considered unique. Straight A's, Student Council involvement and varsity sport wins are all but expected, and even well-meaning, eye-opening community service experiences can elicit no more than a yawn for admissions officers.
The chances have always been slim, but it doesn't hurt any less when students prepare their entire academic life to receive that thick acceptance envelope, only to read, "I am sorry to tell you that…"
In a Washington Post article revealingly titled "Are colleges gaming their applicants?", Ted Fiske, founder and editor of the iconic, lime green Fiske Guide to Colleges, hints at the current system's alarming arbitrariness: "The whole [college applications process] is a crapshoot. It's a chaotic marketplace… nobody really understands how the whole thing is working anymore."
So in a time when the college applications process remains in its holistic admissions black box, what can families do to optimize their children's chance for success? What is the best insurance policy for young people today?
Here at Élan Advising, we emphasize the fact that the college applications process—at least for the majority of us—is a singular life event. Singular in the sense that it should be a memorable experience, but also singular in the sense that it is, after all, just one event over the entire course of a person's life. For many, it offers an unparalleled opportunity to shine, but it certainly does not offer the final say in how wonderful one's life will or will not turn out to be.
In short, the overburdening, weighty significance of the college admissions process is seldom lost on families, but the bottom-line priorities of what students should be gaining from the experience often are.
Ultimately, we are confident in our philosophy that young people are most likely to succeed in high school, college and beyond if they continuously develop two skills: how to be Happy and how to be Productive.
Here are 5 reasons why providing young people the tools to be Happy, Productive Students is always the best insurance policy, and why our company takes such pride in our life coaching services for young people.
1) Happy, Productive Students write better college applications essays.
This is the most immediate incentive!
Most families, either by firsthand experience or by secondhand knowledge, are familiar with the trials and tribulations of living in a country where the applications process for most colleges and universities is holistic: in deciding whether students would be a good fit for their campus, schools take a whole host of factors into consideration. Some factors are quantitative and easy to compare among a pool of applicants: GPA, standardized test scores, number of awards and hours dedicated to community service. Other, equally important factors are much more qualitative, subjective and complex: a student's problem solving skills, their attitude when facing obstacles and their ability to achieve goals.
Happy, Productive Students write better college applications because through the process of learning what makes their lives joyful and what motivates them, they likely are more confident in their place in the world and have a strong perspective. Happy, Productive Students are authentic and have a good story to tell.
2) Happy, Productive Students are more likely to succeed in school and career.
This statement may seem like a no-brainer, but it is one that rings especially true for young people today.
Previously, the best insurance policy for leading a successful life may have been one's work ethic; the understanding was if you work hard and put in your time, you will be commensurately rewarded with good grades and, someday, a good job with decent pay and benefits—the American Dream.
Young people today, however, desire something more: they want to make a difference, and their lives inside and outside of school or work are increasingly blurred. Whereas older generations may have been content to compartmentalize the many facets of their lives, Millennials experience much higher levels of integration among their personal and work lives.
This means that if either one of these two life skills is underdeveloped—the skill to tap into one's Happiness or the skill to manage one's Productivity—a Millennial's performance in school, and later work, is much more likely to suffer.
3) Happy, Productive Students succeed no matter what college they attend.
Happy, Productive Students know to leverage their resources and take advantage of all that a high school has to offer, whether it be resources in the classroom, AP classes, school counselors, trusted teachers and advisors, a career resource center, etc.
In college, the same strain of logic continues: students who make the most of their time on campus are efficient consumers of the resources available to them. They utilize their surrounding resources to choose a major that suits their interests, participate in research, lead student organizations and network with alumni, all of which lead to better opportunities following graduation.
A student at the University of Oregon observes, “We have an economic system that rewards people with certain kinds of talents very well, but it also creates a lot of cracks,” he said. “If you don’t know who you want to be and what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, you set the stage for some trouble.”
Because they know themselves—their strengths and weaknesses—Happy, Productive Students are skilled at making the most of their resources, which provides them the insurance of being able to advance in their careers, no matter what college they attend.
4) Happy, Productive Students are more resilient.
The new buzzword in the college admissions industry these past few years has been "grit"—for good reason. Beyond the uncertainties of college admissions, young people today continue to face uncertainty in a changed economy, as well as greater pressures to succeed; the difference between those Millennials who thrive and those who flounder in later life may just come down to "grit."
In the face of difficulties—a disappointing grade, a rejection from a "reach" school, or tesion with family or friends—Happy, Productive Students are able to systematically improve their situation, all without losing their overall sense of well-being.
The insurance provided by approaching Happiness as a skill is all the more relevant given the startling rate of mental health issues found in young people today, much of which occurs during a young person's time in high school and college.
5) Happy, Productive Students take care of themselves, not just their résumés.
Perhaps most importantly for the long-term, providing students the tools to be Happy and Productive is the best insurance policy because, after all, young people are much more than academic and professional lives.
They are family members, co-workers and life partners, and in order to lead a fulfilling life, young people need to know how to pursue deep interests, maintain meaningful relationships and contribute to their communities. The same skills that lead to excelling in school and work can also be applied to living a richer personal life.
Time and again, we have been blown away by young people who, once introduced to the concepts behind our life coaching and education consulting program, immediatel
y grasp the program's intrinsic value. They envision how it is useful and relevant to their lives.
As one UC Davis student put it, "The development of students personally, academically and professionally should not be separate issues."