Urban legends abound about how to get your children into the college of your dreams. Kids need to get straight As, play multiple sports, speak multiple languages, star in the school play, start their own social networking site, volunteer at a homeless shelter—no, solve the problem of homelessness in their town.

We won’t lie: The formula for entry to the fifteen to twenty-five top competitive schools is secret and shifting. One year they need scientists; the next the focus is on computer science majors; the following year Arabic majors.

We do know this: The sports recruiting card is a tricky gambit. Who’s to say the dream college’s hockey team needs a forward the year of your Wayne Gretzky’s application? Who’s to say the dream college’s soccer team has scholarship money left for your Mia Hamm? Who’s to say the dream college—it is an academic pursuit, right?—even has a volleyball or wrestling or archery team?

There are no guarantees. We know a young man who was well on his way in hockey, recruited by every powerhouse team and prestigious academic institution. He and his parents spent his entire childhood on the ice, shuttling between four a.m. practices and weekend games and special summer camps. December of his senior year, he broke his leg in three places. Every college that had wooed him withdrew their support.

Your kid should play a sport, or better yet sports, for the love of the sport(s), stay focused in school and get good grades, stay well-rounded. Don’t let her miss her childhood. It happens only once.


Adapted from the books Smart Mama, Smart Money: How to Raise Happy Healthy Kids Without Breaking the Bank and Smart Mamas’ Guide to Afterschool Activities.