Justice Education

Good Read
February 2024

Never Enough by Jennifer Breheny Wallace

Never Enough

Catherine’s husband had graduated from Yale, and they thought their son had potential as well. The only problem? When her husband got in, Yale’s acceptance rate was 25%. Today, that figure hovers around 4%. So Catherine cracked down. Slowly but surely, her conversations with her son became more focused on his college application – his classes, his grades, and his extracurriculars – starting in middle school and ramping up throughout high school. By his senior year, he couldn’t take the pressure any more. He refused to go to school or even get out of bed in the morning, slipping into a deep depression. It would be his late twenties before he finished an undergraduate degree at all, not from Yale, but from a local college.

Catherine’s son is not alone. More and more students are feeling the pressure, not just to get into a college, but to get into an elite college. In Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic – And What We Can Do About It (Penguin Random House, 2023), Jennifer Breheny Wallace tracks down these students, diagnosing both where this pressure comes from and how we can help our students flourish. At the root of this admissions burden, Wallace says, is the belief that “a good life is secured by admission to a ‘good’ college”. And parents assume that not just any college will do – only a few select colleges will actually help students achieve happiness. Wallace interrogates this belief, suggesting that how teenagers and young adults thrive is not through intense academic pressure to get into the right college, but by having their self-worth decoupled from their achievements and having room to explore their interests and identity.