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Stanford’s dream, teenage misery, and pushy parents

In Irena Smith’s memoir about working at the forefront of college admissions mania in America, the Palo Alto-based independent college admissions counselor recalls how she made a ninth grader cry.

Smith told the boy and his mother that they shouldn’t expect him to get into Stanford University. I knew that the staff read most of the applications with a “student rejection eye”. that’s right, reported data In February, Stanford University’s 2026 class acceptance rate was shown to be a record low 3.7%.

His mother was not satisfied when Smith assured the boy that he would receive an excellent education at hundreds of other colleges. Shot Smith with a “look of hate” when he dismissed the idea of ​​making a claim.

In The Golden Ticket (p. 256, She Writes Press), Smith tells the story of a beleaguered boy, a tale of despair and struggle, and a discussion of what it means to be a parent and what to expect from your children. We also consider meaning. The book is set in her hometown of Palo Alto, which is world-famous for its skilled resident population. But, as Smith writes, Palo Alto is also “insane” when it comes to her parental aspirations and teenage stress levels.

“I wrote a book to understand what many people in Palo Alto, and many people in the Bay Area (and nationally) are not talking about: It’s the pressure to be “ivy” and perfect. It’s the league’s way,” she said in an interview. “The truth is, very few kids can actually pull it off.”

Smith counts the three children raised in Palo Alto among the many who were unable to meet this narrow Ivy League ideal because they faced various learning and other challenges. . Smith went on to work with some of America’s most “bruised” teens, and he dissuaded them from the US News and World Report-style hype surrounding “HYPS” schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford). I’m trying

She wants readers of her book to know that there are more than 2,500 colleges and universities that can provide the “golden ticket” to a happy and successful life.

Smith sees his job as helping teenagers discover who they are in the world. Perhaps because she charges her $500 an hour, some of her parents still expect her to deliver the magic formula. The right sport or the right summer project, like working with the poor in Honduras, will improve your child’s chances of getting into her HYPS. Often, Smith mediates conflicts in her family and finds her mother and father trying “diplomatically but resolutely” not to “destroy the child.”

In ninth grade, Smith did not cope well with his mother’s expectations. She never saw the boy again. Still, his family’s story resonates during his scandalous days in 2019’s Varsity Blues. Smith said Bay Area entrepreneurs, Hollywood stars, and other wealthy parents across the country paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to fraudulently enroll their children in top U.S. schools. For her, it was “baring the ugly underbelly of need, striving, and obsession with status and prestige”, which was linked to the college admissions process and Palo Alto’s Inspires the hopes of many families in high-performing communities like

Unfortunately, Smith isn’t sure if this scandal taught many families the futility of this kind of effort and obsession… low single digits.

Palo Alto, on the other hand, is as “glamorous” as it might be in the public’s imagination, but is built on “barely contained foundations of fear” and the constant stress of teenage years. Mr Smith said, town kids often feel like they’re being judged on the red.

“Almost every parent I’ve spoken to, whether for work or not, has moved here for school, only to find that school has dragged their children to their breaking point and taken all the joy out of their eyes. You say you’ve noticed,” Smith said.

Similar to a recent study of Silicon Valley culture that includes Malcolm Harris’ best-selling book Palo Alto, Smith has documented the teenage suicide that took the lives of 10 Palo Alto Unified School District students between 2009 and 2015. The cluster urged school districts to make student mental health a top priority and held regional and national discussions about the role of college admissions in teenage stress.

Smith details why her own children were not immune to mental health struggles. He underwent treatment and graduated from Pacific University in Stockton after contemplating suicide in . Smith said her daughter was self-medicating for anxiety and depression.

In the interview, she also revealed one of her “sadest moments” as a mother. Her younger son said she felt “stupid” in middle school because she and her psychiatrist husband kept telling her to “unleash her potential.” I was. Smith found this to be one of the worst things a seemingly well-meaning parent would say to her about her childhood. Her son, who was later diagnosed with her ADHD, felt he was not trying hard enough and asked:

Smith provides other pieces of her personal history to show her relationship with the American Dream and how people’s lives often take unexpected turns. Her parents are Russian Jews who brought her to America from the former Soviet Union in hopes of a better future for her. Unfortunately, Smith wasn’t the most ambitious teenager to graduate from Homestead High School in Cupertino. This is the alma mater of Wozniak and Jobs’ “Steves”. She wore black eyeliner, hung out with smokers, read crappy bestsellers instead of doing schoolwork, and barely got into UCLA with her GPA of 3.3.

At UCLA, Smith’s love of literature blossomed, earning her doctorate and taking a lecturer position at Stanford University, where her husband had a National Institute of Mental Health fellowship in psychopharmacology. However, her dream of becoming a professor was sidetracked by her parentage, which led her to eventually enroll. From November through March, she and her colleagues combed through tens of thousands of essays to find about 2,000 students who make up the university’s next class.

“There is so much diversity of achievement, effort and resilience that sometimes reading the application feels like drinking excellence from a fire hose. A dance teacher, working the night shift at a family restaurant seven days a week,” Smith wrote.

But she soon became plagued with rejections of everything she had to recommend. Smith said he would not be admitted.

She started her business in 2008 as an independent college counselor. She wanted to help students pass college. Sometimes that means helping them realize there is no community college or university at all until they figure out what they want to do with their lives.These are the paths her two young children followed. Road.

“Frankly, getting into a highly selective college isn’t all that interesting,” Smith wrote. “There are other ways. Some ways are terrifying, some ways are tragic, some ways are exhilarating. They may or may not make it through college.”

Appearance of the author

Irena Smith will be speaking at Books Inc. in Palo Alto on Thursday, April 20th at 7pm. www.booksinc.net.

https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/04/18/confessions-of-a-college-counselor-pushy-parents-teen-misery-and-the-futility-of-the-stanford-dream/ Stanford’s dream, teenage misery, and pushy parents

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