By Guest Blogger Melissa Kinsley

“Mom, in middle school teachers talked about how they are preparing us for high school. In high school, teachers talk a lot about how they are preparing us for college. In college, will they talk about how they are preparing us for the real world?”

College. It’s only 3 years away. Scary. Time is flying by but that’s not the scariest part. The cost of a college education is downright frightening to me but that’s not the scariest part. The game you have to play to get into college. That’s the scariest part.

The game is pressure-filled. Pressure to take the right classes. Pressure to get good grades. Pressure to pick a major. Pressure to pick the perfect college. Pressure to plan your life all at the ripe ol’ age of fourteen.

Fourteen. She just started taking Driver’s Ed on Monday. She can’t drive a car or vote in the upcoming presidential election, yet she’s starting to feel the pressure to decide on a major and pick a college.

I find myself muttering things like ‘Whatever happened to the “Undeclared’ major? Whatever happened to finding yourself in college?” If she hears me, I’ll get an eye roll because I am not taking her life concerns seriously.

I take it seriously. I get the pressure she and every other high school student faces. I read the endless stream of articles about how impossible it is to get into the right college and that you better guide your child now or she will be doomed to flip burgers at some greasy fast food joint for the rest of her life. I see the statistics spewed that make it seem like you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than getting into a good college if you don’t take the right classes, get the right grades and fill your college resume with service hours. I hear about the need to hire a consultant to help identify the colleges and universities that are the perfect fit for your child. I’m inundated with “helpful tips” from the mom who can’t help but tell you about how Duke won’t even look at your kid unless she takes all AP courses and gets a perfect score on an AP exam, how if you’re getting a B in an honors or AP class you sure as heck better switch to the class where you’ll get an A …

The guidance counselor tells your child to take challenging classes but getting below a B in an AP course means you may want to think about switching out of the class.mWhat?!  A C is a B in AP.  But, blaming the guidance counselor is like killing the proverbial messenger. She didn’t create the game or the rules, she’s just sharing tips she’s learned along the way. And, the rules seem to shift like the San Andreas Fault upon which sits Stanford University, The Holy Grail of universities.

I wonder what would happen if we all yelled a collective “Game Over.” If we all just stopped playing the game? The rules don’t seem to cultivate a love for learning, taking classes that interest you and help you figure out what you should be doing in life, or pushing yourself to not only excel but also to see what your limits are. By playing the game are we creating a generation that is afraid to take risks and shies away from uncomfortable situations that test their true mettle?

I think back to my high school days. I took Honors and AP classes.  I did well in most of my classes.  However, I got Cs in both AP Calculus and AP Chemistry. I never worried that colleges would view these Cs like “Scarlet Letters” on my transcript. I got accepted to excellent colleges like Boston College, Santa Clara University and Boston University.

I think to answer my daughter’s question: “will I be prepared for life?” I’m going to encourage my daughter to play the game by the “old school” rules. Take classes that interest and challenge you. Work hard and do your best. Play the sports you love. Volunteer because it matters to you not because it looks good on a college resume. It’s important to sweat a little by putting yourself in situations where you feel uncomfortable and have to push and problem solve to move yourself forward. A hard earned C is better than an easy A any day as it keeps you humble and helps you realize a life well lived is one worth working hard to achieve.

“Mom, I am never going to college. UNC’s average GPA is a 4.7.” My advice? Yes, you will go to college. If it’s not UNC, there’s a college for you. Do your best and breathe.