I watched the new Netflix documentary, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, last night. It was nuts.

The most poignant moment for me was when a young, Black testing coach said, “Why did those parents feel the need to cheat when their kids already had so much?”

And that was a gut punch for me and an important reminder.

Sure, it’s fine if you have a child who is self-driven and motivated to get into a top-tier school, but your kid’s academic schedule or sports team or college acceptance is not what defines your success as a parent.

Achieving a certain status will never change your self-worth.

Living vicariously through your child will never fully rid you of those feelings of inadequacy.

But the saddest part of the story for me was how the parents lied and manipulated their kids. They encouraged them to pretend they had learning disabilities to receive different testing accommodations. They danced around in joy when they received a score they knowingly did not earn. They photoshopped pictures of their children’s faces onto other people to secure sports scholarships.

They thought the way their child was at that moment wasn’t enough. 

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And if I believed for one second these privileged students needed this type of elite education, I would feel a little bit of compassion. But they have already experienced the best of everything and it is only because they are privileged that they can afford to cheat even more.

We’ve been talking about college a bit lately in our home. I’ve been taking an online seminar on the admissions process and reading a book.

But last night I told my sophomore twins that the only reason I’m doing that is so we can find the best-fit school for their needs, not the best-named college to brag about to my friends.

And I think I saw a little sigh of relief come out of them.

Let’s take back our kids’ school experiences. Let’s make it less about prestige and more about purpose. Let’s make it more about learning and less about reputation. Let’s stop reaching for a name brand and instead look at where our kids need to be, where they fit, where they will thrive.

Let’s not make college the only option, and instead talk about all the ways our kids can have a fulfilling life doing what they love. 

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Let’s step away from the obsession that schools with the lowest acceptance rates provide the best education and call it for what it is: savvy marketing.

Let’s recognize that the admissions process—like club sports and exclusive service clubs and private coaching—is now big business.

For some reason, it’s a scary place to be for parents right now. Do I want to tell my neighbor that my kid is going to a small college that she’s never heard of? Do I want to post on social media that my child didn’t get into her top schools? Will I look like a failure as a mom if my child doesn’t go to an elite school?

And that fear causes us to do irrational things as parents.

There are more than 3,000 colleges in the United States right now, yet for some reason, we are only focused on 150 of them, which leaves a lot of disappointed kids and parents.

It takes courage to do what’s right for your child while the rest of the world chases something different.

Be courageous today.

Want to learn more about the college admissions process and how the business of college has changed? We highly recommend this book.

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.