Let’s ease the distorting pressures of college admissions

High school commencements are wrapping up.

Visualize all those kids in mortar boards, clutching their new diplomas. They’re scholars, athletes, artists, volunteers.

And some of the most impressive among them are speed freaks.

A recent, stunning story in the New York Times documented that many high school students – high achievers hell bent on getting into a name college – are abusing the drugs routinely prescribed to people with Attention Deficit Disorder.

A case in point is Adderall, made by Shire Pharmaceuticals, which has offices in Chester County.

It helps to understand this about ADD: It occurs because a piece of the brain that helps you filter stimuli and focus is underactive. ADD drugs are actually stimulants, aimed at getting that part of the brain to wake up and do its job.

If you don’t have ADD, the drugs may temporarily help you hyperfocus. Kids desperate to get into that prestige college now treat Adderall and its peers as the “good grade” drugs. The pills help them finish off that project, cram for that test.

There’s a lively black market in ADD medications. But like any amphetamine, Adderall can be devastatingly harmful when abused.

A lot of school officials contacted by the Times pulled an ostrich act.

Not Douglas Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion schools on the Main Line.

To his great credit, this is what he told the Times: “It’s time for a serious wake-up call. Straight A’s and high SAT scores look great on paper, but they aren’t reflective measures of a student’s health and well-being. … We need to embrace new definitions of student success. For many families and communities, that’s simply not happening.”

Wow, Young nailed it. In middle- and upper-class families, the quest to get into a college with a glossy name is distorting students’ high school years.

You’d think the widespread coverage of the huge student loan burden, which today’s grads carry into adult life like a boulder on their backs, would cut into the frenzy.

But apparently not.

Here are some stats to ponder: One in three college students transfers. Less than half graduate from the college where they started out. Isn’t this entirely predictable. These are kids, with morphing brains and emotions. How could they always get this choice right? Especially when the result can hinge on one bad roommate, one boring prof, one love gone bad.

Then why obsess over what turns out to be a coin flip?

As adults, as parents, we need to back off – to end the name college arms race. It’s hurting our kids. Their health is way more important than having a prestige name to toss out at the next backyard barbecue.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.