By: Katie Ryan
The month of March is a time of high anxiety and rapidly fluctuating emotions for many high school seniors, as college admission decisions arrive and final decisions about where to attend college are made. More than one CWA senior parent has recently described the whole process to me as “a roller coaster ride” Thus, I was pleased to read two recent articles offering an uplifting and helpful message to students who may receive disappointing news from a hoped-for college.
Their message is particularly relevant for any student hoping for admission to one of the handful of colleges with single-digit admit rates because, as the articles point out, most will be denied. Frank Bruni’s New York Times opinion piece, “How to Survive the College Admission Madness,” and Jeff Selingo’s essay in the Washington Post, “Forget Harvard and Stanford. It Really Doesn’t Matter Where You Go to College,” both argue convincingly that success in life is not reserved for those who attend the most selective colleges, and that it matters much less where you go to college than what you do while you’re there. Both articles offer evidence that many successful people—including the CEOs of both Disney and Starbucks—spent their undergraduate years at institutions not generally considered elite and that most employers care more about a candidate’s experience and skills than where they went to college. Bruni’s article goes a step further, exploring how rejection from a first-choice college can actually serve as a valuable life lesson, teaching resilience and motivating young people to make the most of their college experiences, wherever they land.
,I couldn’t agree more with the thesis of these two articles, having worked with many students over the years who didn’t get into a hoped for “reach” school yet went on to impressive and fulfilling college experiences and careers nonetheless. This isn’t a new idea, but it bears repeating because so many people have misperceptions about the importance of attending a “name brand” college, and so many high school students undergo excessive stress trying to gain admission to such colleges.
The provocative title of Selingo’s article goes a bit far, stating that it “doesn’t matter where you go to college” but it seems to be just an attention grabber; he doesn’t actually make that claim in his essay. Of course it does matter where one goes to college, in that it is important for every student to make a thoughtful, informed college choice, to select a college that suits his or her learning style, personality, interests, strengths, and goals. A comprehensive, well-researched college search, preceded by an honest self-assessment is indeed one of best ways that a student can set him or herself up for taking full advantage of the college experience. That’s the guiding principle on which we base the college counseling program at CWA. Bruni and Selingo remind us, as we at Charles Wright often tell families, that for every student there are many colleges that will be a good fit, not just one ideal place, that it’s important to keep the college admission process in proper perspective, and that the most transformative experiences in life often begin as the result of a disappointment or failure. This is valuable, sound advice.