I was on the phone with the parent of one of my students, and as we discussed what it takes to gain admission to the most selective colleges in the land. When he said, “it’s impossible to get into college these days,” a metaphor popped into my head. I explained that if you want to summit Mt. Everest, it takes a lot of planning, patience, determination, and effort–and you may still fail because you are trying to breathe thin air. Families often complain that it’s not a great system when kids are so stressed out junior year about AP exams, testing, activities, and so on.

While I certainly agree that students are way too stressed and that the bar continues to rise as competitive admissions become more selective, I also try to point out that at some level, stress is a choice. Getting to Base Camp, or even a couple of camps beyond, is an accomplishment. There is plenty of talk about how difficult it is to get into college, meaning a selective college. However, it’s actually not so challenging to get into college. The vast majority of schools admit well more than 50 percent of those that apply. If you want to breathe thin air, it is stressful and demanding and you have to be in shape for it! This means taking the hardest classes offered at your school, getting top grades, and where applicable, earning strong test scores. It also means showing passions through activities and being able to balance it all, with an understanding that the decisions made are not always fair, just like life. You can prepare for years to summit Everest, but you can’t control for adverse weather conditions or, in the worst case scenario, an avalanche. Similarly, you can’t account for the shaping of an applicant pool.

I write this in the spirit of a reality check and a growth mindset for students who have their heart set on only the most selective schools. When the pressure becomes unmanageable, they resent the process. My advice if you want to breathe thin air: stay balanced, and bask in the achievement of hitting Camp 1. Remember, it’s not where you go as much a what you do with your educational experience that shapes your future.