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College Bound

Conducting Your College Search with Authenticity and Integrity

The fundamental goal of parenting is to raise offspring to stand on their own as confident, contributing members of society. The college admissions scandal that made headlines this spring epitomizes parents who have lost sight of this goal. In these families, going to college was less about launching young adults into the world and more about parents securing bragging rights and social status based on bribes, cheating, and lies. These are extreme examples of what happens when parents conflate their children’s accomplishments with their own identities. For their efforts, these individuals face criminal charges, public humiliation, and damaged relationships because their children now know (if they didn’t already) the depth to which their parents do not believe in them. By contrast, millions of young adults nationwide will be accepted into and graduate from colleges this year prepared to thrive because they are leading lives of authenticity and integrity.

For most undergraduates, college is a bridge between childhood and launching their adult lives. Yet, a college education is more than a stepping stone. College often gives graduates foundational skills to launch their careers. And yet, it is more than vocational school. College is a transformative experience, in which students have the chance to succeed, to fail, and to regain their footing many times in every term. It is an extraordinary time to make choices, accept consequences, and to try things that the student may never do again—like that classical studies class that will make some future trip to Greece even more significant. The complete experience, with its highs and lows, fortifies habits of mind that contribute to college graduates tending to have stronger financial security, healthier habits, and higher rates of civic involvement for the rest of their lives.

Many families take great pride in supporting their offspring through college. It is another point of pride when successful college graduates begin to support themselves. Pride flows again and again as adult children move up career ladders, start families of their own, overcome challenges, and contribute to society in a myriad of ways. It turns out that life has many rites of passage, and each one helps to prepare us for the next. While it is natural for parents to help their children, going to the level of “helicopter” or “snowplow” parenting undermines the fundamental goal. Parents can model values, share life wisdom, and facilitate opportunities for their children, but each individual must eventually take responsibility for their own growth and maturity. This is what it means to be an adult, and there are no short cuts.

This spring the Harvard Graduate School of Education offered parents a set of action steps for making the college admissions process a true success. They recommend that parents behave in an ethical manner themselves, keep the focus on their teens, discuss values, help teens identify interests and activities that are truly meaningful to them, and model and encourage gratitude. Going forward, the college search process will not change for the candidates with whom I work because this is already how we approach the work. Throughout my career, I have supported candidates who engage in this life adventure with integrity and authenticity. As a result, the students, their families, and their schools all have reason to be proud of their potential and of their success.

Deena Maerowitz advises students throughout the entire college admissions process. She works with students ranging from freshmen to seniors and is an expert in both undergraduate and graduate education. She is widely published and sought-after as a speaker on college planning. She can be reached at