GothamGal has a though provoking post up about the insanity of carefully crafting over acheivers and getting kids into college today. She says that we should drop the current system and look for a new way to screen students... fewer tests, less pressure.
I do think that what is going on is insane, but anytime there's insanity, you don't have to get caught up in it.
When I was in high school, the average graduating SAT score for my class was 1350. Now I hear its up over 1400... average... 1400! I was lucky because we all seemed to take a pretty healthy approach to it, but one could go nuts trying to test prep your way to a score like that.
If you need to take two test prep courses and hire a private tutor to get your kid to score a 1520, then, well, sorry, that kid just isn't a 1520 student. I remember this guy in my freshmen year of college who used to study in the lounge about 10 hours a day to get a 3.7 and I just remember heading out the door with my baseball glove to have a catch and enjoy a nice day while he was studying. If that was what it took to get the really high grades, well then I just wasn't going to be a great student... simple as that.
It was that kind of approach that I had in high school. In hindsight, I probably could have worked harder, I admit, but it was where my head was at the time. Pushing me wouldn't have helped.. .I had to push myself... which I did, big time, when I got to Fordham. Yeah, so I went to Fordham, which was a good school, but it wasn't Harvard or Yale or Princeton. However, I wouldn't be where I am today at another school. Being at Fordham, close to the city, enabled me to intern at the GM pension fund during school. It also meant that another Fordham grad who was at GM sort of took me under his wing, rather than the Harvard intern we had, because he felt like this guy would get everything he wanted anyway. That led directly to my job in the private equity group, which led to Union Square Ventures, which led to Oddcast.
If I was coming out of Harvard in '01, it wouldn't have been enough for me to just go to Harvard... I would have had to beat out all my own classmates for jobs. When you go to a top school, you almost have to be the best there, too, because there will already be 5 or 6 Harvard resumes in for a job, and they're not going to interview all of you.
You don't have to go to a top ten school and you don't have to be a Goldman Sachs investment banker to be successful either. Teach your kids to follow their own way at their own pace. Of course, give them all the tools and encouragement to be their best, but don't push them to be more than they're mentally ready to handle. I wasn't ready to take the lead in high school and I would have burned out very early had I tried. I'm lucky that my parents were just happy I was in a good school and supportive of whatever I did. They let me come around on my own terms.
Oh, and I wound up doing better than that kid who studied ten hours a day... and I really do owe it mostly to my mental health. In college, I really believe its really not about how hard you work, but more about how smart you work and how you handle stress. Oh, and networking, too. You'll never make good contacts in your field, which can take you a lot further than your GPA, if you're a big ball of stress that seems mentally unstable.