Worrying about college? It lasts four years and so does high school. Kids grow and learn just as much—if not more—from the age of 14 to 18 as they do from 18 to 22. So why do so many parents act like the high school years are nothing more than preparation for college?

Over and over again, I’ve seen teenagers being pushed to do things that give them no joy and inspire no creativity or growth, because their parents believe those activities will help them get into a better college. High schoolers are spending every single weekend taking SAT classes and practice tests, or working with private coaches on whatever sport is predicted to be the most recruited in a couple of years, or signing up for summer programs that they dread, just to impress college admissions.

Ugh. That’s no way to live your life.

And then there’s the family pressure—the constant wistful talk about the Ivies, the implication that where you
go to college will determine the course of the rest of your life, the scrutiny of GPA and test scores, the wooing of college counselors and representatives. . . Parents can ramp up the college process—and the anxiety—in so many awful ways. It’s like their super-power.

You know what’s worse than getting rejected by your first-choice college? Feeling like you’ve disappointed your entire family and ruined your entire future by getting rejected by your first-choice college.

Please, for the sake of your child’s sanity and your own, stay out of the college process as much as you can. Let him enjoy his high school years—let him try some new things, make some mistakes, have some fun, write some poetry, think some deep thoughts (and occasionally some dark ones). Don’t panic if her grades aren’t all A’s, if he isn’t great at tests, if she feels overwhelmed by doing a sport, if he isn’t perfect in absolutely every way.

Yes, it is harder than ever to get into an Ivy League school, and maybe your kid won’t get into one.

And maybe that’s okay.

“Over and over again, I’ve seen teenagers being pushed to do things that give them no joy and inspire no creativity or growth, because their parents believe those activities will help them get into a better college.”

“Think of college as part of your kid’s education, not as a prize, a competition, or a solution to all of life’s problems.”

I went to an Ivy League and it went fine, but, honestly, I think I might have been happier in a more relaxed environment. And I know plenty of fellow graduates whose lives haven’t been perfect– believe it or not, going to Harvard doesn’t insure a future filled with easy money and loving relationships. So I’ve never put any pressure on my kids to go to any specific school– I figure they’ll end up at the right one if they visit a bunch, figure out what they want most from their education, and are realistic about their chances of getting in. And so far that’s been true (two down, two to go).

If you want to dangle a name-brand purse from your wrist, that’s fine—other than overpaying, there’s no real harm done. But don’t push your kid toward a particular college because it’s a name brand. Take him to visit a wide-range of colleges and let him get a sense of what he likes. My kids can tell within five minutes whether or not a college is appealing to them. And I think they’ve all been amazed at how many are appealing. If you’re open-minded, I think you will too.

There are a ton of good colleges out there, so relax. Let your kid enjoy his high school years. Have her tour a lot of college campuses and make a list of all the ones she finds appealing, so she doesn’t feel like there’s only one good choice and everything else is failure. Encourage him to think about what schools best serve his interests—have him focus on the education and opportunities and not on the name. Mostly, make sure you communicate that neither your happiness nor her future are dependent on which school she gets into. Think of college as part of your kid’s education, not as a prize, a competition, or a solution to all of life’s problems.

Or, to put it succinctly, let sanity prevail.

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