Planning for College Your High School Path

Can Too Much Praise Hurt Chances for College Admission?

Written by CB Experts

New studies indicate there is backlash to praise of student achievement and intellect. The old philosophy was that high praise equaled high achievement. The reason–if students felt confident, they would be more able to learn and compete. Unfortunately, although this approach has been practiced for decade, we are not seeing much academic growth. In 2006 the Brown Center on Education Policy Report revealed U.S eighth graders did only middling well on their math scores compared to their counterparts around the world but had high confidence in their mathematical ability. The question arose, why would these children work harder to improve their skills?

New psychological and brain research now indicates that student who have been given too much praise may not be high achievers at all.

  • One reason is they are less self-directed because they depend on outside assessment of what they do.
  • Another reason is students who have grown to think of themselves as smart and competent will shy away from major challenges to avoid tarnishing their reputation. They become even more afraid to fail.
  • There is also the feeling that students who are allowed to fail and recognize their failure actually become both more creative and resilient. If they are praised for succeeding after a challenge, for trying harder and for working hard, they want to take on more challenges and are motivated to grow and develop their intelligence.

All of this seems to vindicate the rather controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In this book Asian parents are shown to think of their children in three ways different from our own culture.

  • First, children owe their parents and are expected to work and to make their patents proud.
  • Second, children do not know what’s good for them; their parents do. Therefore, they are more willing to take directions even if it leads them to less pleasant efforts.
  • Finally, parents demand only the best from their children. Their effort isn’t the end product; accomplishment is.

What Should Parents Do?

If you are parents who want the best for your child’s future—who doesn’t!!—you are already thinking about your child’s successful completion of a college education. That means your child needs a good high school record to compete with others in this difficult college admission process. Perhaps the best way to get your child prepared for this admission gamut would be to let your child understand they are not smart or gifted but that intelligence is developed and grows.

Rather than praise them and accept what they do and say,

  • Challenge them in their thinking, asking them to explain or argue.
  • Push them to not label themselves as AP students or gifted students by making sure they understand these are only labels and what they learn in their course is what is important.
  • Encourage them to look beyond their school courses into mentorships and college coursers.

When they begin new tasks, rather than recognize their early attempts as “wonderful,”

  • Encourage them to continue to build on their skills,
  • To work hard on developing their skills,
  • To not accept an “A” as the only assessment of their work, and
  • Encourage them to revise and rework.

Instead of letting students select their favorite teachers or subjects,

  • Make sure students learn to deal with all kinds of expectations,
  • Try all kinds of subjects, even ones they are not immediately attracted to, and
  • Take on some work that is both different and difficult for them.


  • When students try new things, work to overcome a difficult assignment or deal with a difficult personality,
  • When they see they are not an end product but are working to develop themselves…

Then praise them!

You will be developing both attitudes and work habits that can be demonstrated on their college applications and will help them succeed on their own in college.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.