How to manage the stress of college admissions

Managing stress over college admissions

This week in our School Matters series, we are focusing on the price of college admission.

The massive college admissions scandal, which included the arrests of actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, highlights how far some wealthy parents may be willing to go to get their kids into elite universities. Getting accepted into a dream school based on academic excellence requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice — and stress.

Psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour joined "CBS This Morning" to discuss how students and parents should re-frame their thinking when it comes to college admissions and what we know about the outcomes of going to an elite university.  

"We do want to be careful about the assumption, though, that going to a good college means that you're going to have a good adult life. We don't actually have those data. When we look at adult well-being, it turns out that economic success, professional success are not that strongly correlated with being a happy adult. Instead, the things that really matter in adulthood are having good relationships, doing work you find meaningful, and feeling that you're gaining skills," Damour said.

Damour, the author of "Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls," said it's important to remind your kids that a name-brand college doesn't necessarily mean a better life. In addition, she warned that parents shouldn't confuse college admission with college readiness.

"Those are two very different things. College admission is really about your academic credentials. Readiness is can you maintain relationships, do you know how to take care of yourself? Are you sufficiently mature to handle the Independence of college? And I worry that sometimes with so much stress on the academics it's easy to lose other aspects of growth that are really necessary for college success," she said. "The main question is whether they see their self-care as their responsibility."

Self-care, according to Damour, means not only being able to take care of one's self on a day-to-day basis, but also learning how to manage one's own wellness and safety.

"Getting themselves to bed on time, getting themselves out of bed. Washing their clothes. If they're going to parties, managing their own safety. Not equating 'Am I going to get caught' with good decision making. Don't worry about getting caught, worry about could you get hurt. That's the kind of thinking I want in young people," she said. "What I will say is I think the kids are stuck in the middle, too. Because the academic expectations are so high that high school can tip into something where all they're doing is homework and there's not time to build out these other assets."

To put it succinctly, Damour said parents should focus on raising "whole people" — not just "good college applicants."