The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former admissions staffer: Parents, calm down. Let Harvard go.

Harvard University Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Like many who have worked in college admissions, she has heard it: All the worries from parents about “what they can do” to get their kids into Ivies.

And she has read about a cluster of suicides that some attribute to stress, pressure on achievement.

As a former admissions officer for some top schools, she has some cutting advice for parents:

Forget the top schools. Forget formulas to ace admissions. Forget achievement at all costs.

“… you need to assume, right now, that your child is not getting into Harvard no matter what he or she does. (And no, he’s not getting into Stanford either, or Yale, or Dartmouth, or MIT. Probably not UC Berkeley, either. No, I’m not kidding.) Your kid isn’t getting into the college you think he or she is.
What? So-and-so’s child is at Princeton right now? And got what on his SATs? And did those activities? Hmmm. Interesting. Sure, you can prove me wrong with some examples. And I can prove myself right with a hundred more. Stanford’s rate of admission was below 5 percent last year. Do the math.”

She shares some of the questions she always gets asked — and those she wishes parents would ask.

Her advice: Let your kids sleep. Let your kids learn. Let your kids challenge themselves and find the things they want to explore. Define success not by results such as scores or admissions letters, but evidence of their self-motivation and accountability — what they do without parents’ pressure.

“That carries over to the work force more than any grades ever will,” she said.
“We need to hold our kids tightly, tell them we accept them as-is, will love them whatever happens in their lives, and then, collectively … We need to let Harvard go.”

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