The Myth of College Prestige: Rethinking Success in the Mental Health Crisis Among U.S. Kids

Parenting researcher and author Jennifer Breheny Wallace challenges the notion of a “good college” as pressure mounts on kids in the U.S. mental health crisis

The mental health crisis among children in the United States has reached alarming levels, with mounting pressure to secure a spot in a prestigious college exacerbating the issue. Jennifer Breheny Wallace, a parenting researcher and author, is challenging this prevailing narrative by teaching her own children a simple yet powerful concept: there is no such thing as a “good college.” In her book, “Never Enough: When Achievement Pressure Becomes Toxic — and What We Can Do About It,” Wallace, in collaboration with a researcher from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, sheds light on the detrimental effects of societal expectations and offers a path towards redefining success.

The Research Behind the Myth

Wallace’s book is the result of an extensive survey conducted in collaboration with a researcher from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The study involved 6,500 parents across the United States, offering a comprehensive understanding of the pressures faced by children in the education system. Drawing from her own experiences as a Harvard University graduate, Wallace brings a unique perspective to the conversation.

Dialing Down the Pressure at Home

In her own household, Wallace and her husband strive to alleviate the stress surrounding college admissions by challenging the notion of college rankings and prestige. By reminding their three children, including a high school senior, that future success and happiness are not contingent on the institution they attend, they aim to deflate the myth that college prestige is the secret to success. This approach allows their children to focus on personal growth and finding their own paths to fulfillment.

Redefining Success

Wallace emphasizes the need to redefine success beyond the confines of a college degree. By encouraging children to pursue their passions, develop critical thinking skills, and cultivate resilience, parents can foster a sense of fulfillment that extends beyond the pressures of academia. This shift in mindset can alleviate the mental health crisis gripping the younger generation.

The Role of Society

While Wallace’s approach is commendable, the responsibility to address the mental health crisis among children extends beyond individual households. Society at large must reevaluate the emphasis placed on college rankings and prestige. By promoting a more holistic view of success that encompasses personal growth, well-being, and community engagement, we can create a healthier environment for children to thrive.

Navigating the Path Forward

As parents and educators, it is crucial to recognize the detrimental effects of societal pressures on children’s mental health. By reframing success and challenging the myth of college prestige, we can empower the younger generation to pursue their passions and find fulfillment outside of traditional measures. It is time to prioritize the well-being of our children and redefine success for a brighter future.


The mental health crisis among children in the United States is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. Jennifer Breheny Wallace’s book, “Never Enough,” offers valuable insights into the detrimental effects of societal pressure and the myth of college prestige. By challenging this narrative and redefining success, we can pave the way for a healthier and more fulfilling future for our children. It is time to prioritize their well-being and create an environment that allows them to thrive beyond the confines of traditional measures of achievement.






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