Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: Best or different?

Why trying to be the best is a losing strategy

by  Dr. Ann Wagner

Competition.  It frames so many things in our lives.  Sports.  Business. And yes, academics.  Who got the highest grade on the test?  Who is number one in the class?  How can my child be the best?

And yes, academics do matter.  In fact, your child’s grades are the most important part of the decision-making process for universities.  But good grades alone aren’t enough; in fact, a student who focuses exclusively on being the best academically misses out on what can be the key to college acceptance: being different.

No magic formula

I know the next questions many parents will ask: We know our kids need extra-curriculars--what activities look best on an application?  How many volunteer hours should my child have?  What are the Ivy League schools looking for?  My answer to these questions is there is no magic formula.  Remember, when we chase what everyone else is chasing, we don’t stand out.  College and universities receive thousands of applications each year and can tell when a student’s extra-curricular activities are cultivated by parents hoping for an advantage.  Further, colleges and universities do not share a standard formula, they each have an independent view of what makes a good fit for their school.

Motivated by interest

For students to have the best story to tell, they need to frame their knowledge and experience around the things that interest them.  Sure, your daughter should be challenged to venture beyond her comfort zone but forcing her to do things that fall well outside of her interests is inauthentic.  She should be expanding her learning by following her curiosities and attractions.  If she feels what she is doing has value, her enthusiasm will naturally come out in her writing, her interviews, and most importantly in the work she is doing.

Teen girl with science project

Encourage entrepreneurial thinking

Urge your child to try something unique.  Encourage him to look around his community.  What does he see that he thinks should be improved?  Who does he see that he could help in some way?  How could he make a difference?  Perhaps there is a business opportunity that he thinks he could start in his spare time.  Support him, but within limits. Your child needs to take the lead to be successful.

Don’t push it

I have often had the urge to try to force my son to do something that I knew would be good for him.  It never worked. What does work is ongoing conversation, encouragement, and support for your child’s ideas. In mathematics, there is always more than one way to approach and solve a problem.  So too is the road to your child’s success.  Let them solve it their way.

Celebrate success

Your child’s success may not always turn out the way you pictured it.  But it is still success!  And it should be celebrated.  We are cultivating future adults, citizens who will carry our work forward and build upon it.  Yes, they will learn from us, but they must also learn on their own through trial and error.  See success through your children’s eyes.  Allow them room to find their way.  Allow them to be unique, because it is the best way to stand out.

Dr. Ann Wagner

Ann Wagner, EdD is a founder and the Vision Engineer for Launch Education.  Dr. Wagner has led international schools around the world and currently teaches at the university level, working with educators earning their masters' degrees.