If going to college was the right decision for you, you may have felt intense pressure to get into a "good" school--probably even an Ivy League one. The association between an Ivy League education and success has become so strong in our culture, it's no wonder many people believe having their kid get into and graduate from a name-brand school is important. 

In fact, it's so strong that a massive college scam has swept the nation. Actresses Felicity Hoffman and Lori Loughlin are just two of the 50 people charged by the FBI in a college admission scheme. The accused allegedly gave money to a fraudulent organization created by William "Rick" Singerwho then helped kids cheat on the SAT or ACT tests and/or bribed Division 1 coaches into getting the kids into schools using fake athletic credentials.

This situation highlights two important issues that need addressing:

1. The idea that an elite school is a critical stepping stone to success is a false message.

2. Parents who are scamming the system to do what they think is a good thing are actually hurting their children's ability to be successful.

First, an elite education is not a predetermined Yellow Brick Road to professional success for everyone. In fact, formal education often trains you to follow rules rather than follow your own path. The entire process of gaining acceptance to elite schools primes us with the idea that there is only one right way of doing things. This type of thinking keeps you from pursuing work you love. When you refuse to prioritize joy and fulfillment in your work, your performance suffers and "success" becomes a struggle. In the race to the top, you might actually get stuck in mediocrity.

Being focused on attaining an elite education also promotes a fixed mindset. It pushes us to believe that where we fall on the scale of standardized tests and college rankings  determines our worth and the level of success that we should aspire to. But having this fixed mindset is actually one of the worst things we can do for our future performance and impact in life.

In her research, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck discovered that an essential quality of success is the growth mindset--the belief that you can always improve, and that success is linked more strongly to effort than more fixed factors such as intelligence. 

Second, parents who scam the system in the belief they are giving their kids the best opportunity for success are not accepting their kids for who they are. They are sending a clear message to their kids that says, "You aren't good enough, so I need to help you." This message damages their kids' ability to succeed, even if it results in a Princeton degree.

It also teaches them not to appreciate themselves for who they are and erodes their confidence. Not to mention, if they can't get into the schools on their own merit, it means they aren't a great fit. Forcing them into an environment that isn't a good fit will further deplete their self-esteem because they will most likely struggle to keep up.

Bottom line, there is no size-fits-all approach to professional success. Valuing who your child is and finding the right environment for them is the greatest gift a parent can give. Stop following society's false message about college and support your kid whether their path is headed to the Ivy league or forgoing college altogether. Giving a child support for being authentically who they are is the most powerful tool they can have in their journey to becoming successful.

Published on: Mar 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.