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Last week, my phone started blowing up with texts. Here are some of the excerpts: “How much did your parents pay?”, “Who took the SAT for you?” and “NOW it all makes sense!” These were some of the friendly jabs from my friends in the wake of the Varsity Blues FBI sting which revealed that Hollywood stars and Wall Street executives were involved in a scheme to pay off elite college admissions staff and coaches to guarantee admission for their sons and daughters.

The facts: 1.) Yes, I attended Harvard. 2.) No, my parents did not pay off an unwitting admission officer to help my application chances. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My parents did not get involved in any aspect of my college application process. Why, you might ask?

Well, my parents never attended college, so I think that they felt like they were “over their skis” when it came to navigating the college admission process. Secondly, my parents both worked 40+ hours/week and were more focused on paying the bills/feeding their children than on me getting a couple more points on my SAT. Lastly, and most importantly, my parents had 6 other children. Enough said.

However, it was only upon my arrival in Cambridge that I began to understand that my standardized test preparation/application process/college search was very different than many of my classmates. Standardized test tutors & expensive college advisory services were the norm, not the exception, amongst my peers. Additionally, many students were shipped off to prep schools across the country after 8th grade (and sometimes sooner), in the hope that they could secure their “Golden Ticket” — acceptance into an Ivy League school.

I must admit, for a few weeks after arriving on campus I felt like I was at a disadvantage because my parents hadn’t done enough to prepare me for the academic rigors at Harvard. Then, it was confirmed…I received a “C” on my first college paper. Inconceivable! (Must use the voice of Vizzini from The Princess Bride while reading that line). The shock…the horror! However, I soon found out that I wasn’t alone. Many of my classmates, even those that had those expensive tutors also received C’s. I think it was Harvard’s way of saying to the Freshmen, “You ain’t all that!”

After the shock of mediocrity wore off, I soon realized that my parents unknowingly gave me a precious gift by remaining hands-off in many parts of my schooling. Resiliency. Many of my friends and classmates had a much more difficult time dealing with struggles and difficulties – both in the classroom and in life. Failure is a part of life and the sooner parents make their children aware of it, the easier it will be for them to develop coping mechanisms to survive in the real world. If you want to have independent, confident children, do not micromanage every aspect of their life starting in middle school. Allow them to “build calluses” through trial and error and occasional failure. Otherwise, you may soon find yourself singing the Varsity Blues alongside Felicity Huffman.

–Jeff Bryk, FITT-RX Trainer

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