With Valentine’s Day only a week away, I’m asking all 9th, 10th, and 11th grade college-bound students NOT to fall in love.
With any particular college, that is.
But before getting into all of that, I must confess that I’m a hopeless romantic. I married my college sweetheart, entranced by her beautiful blue eyes, Cheshire cat smile and sense of humor the moment we first met. We’ve been together for 28 years, and she’s my best friend. In that sense I am extremely lucky.
But this isn’t about me.
When it comes to colleges, I often hear students express their intense desire to attend a particular school, and while I welcome the enthusiasm, I think it’s important for applicants to keep an open mind and remain realistic when it comes to the college search process. In other words, play the field. Think of the college admissions process as a dating exercise. You’re not getting hitched.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know that college admissions has become extremely competitive, especially at the schools ranked in the top 50 or 100 (Oh, I really hate to reference the rankings, but I’m just trying to make a point). For this reason, I don’t want students to become smitten with a single school that has a single digit admissions rate, only to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe in having a deliberate focus when it comes to college admissions. If you identify a school that appears to check ALL of your boxes and feels like the perfect fit, then you should take particular actions to position yourself for the best possible chance at admission. Be sure to apply yourself academically in high school to meet their academic standards. Really prepare for the SAT/ACT. Go visit their campus and take the tour. Learn more about their majors and be able to envision or trace your academic path from freshman to senior year. Communicate with your admissions counselor. Talk to current students to learn about life on campus. Be prepared to answer their supplement questions on the application, including why you think you’re a good fit (this question goes both ways, as in why the college is a good fit for you).
The thing is, you should engage in this behavior at more than just one college. The goal is to have multiple good options. That way you’re not stuck feeling lost and without direction if you are deferred or denied. Even if you love a school and you’re applying early decision, you should be able to imagine yourself on more than one campus.
College admissions can be an emotional experience, and a learning exercise… And, if done right then it’s also an opportunity for growth. The best results come when students take a reflective approach, really spending the time to discover their purpose in seeking a college degree after high school.
For many students and their families, a college degree has become merely a credential for advanced employment. While I don’t deny that importance of this emphasis — all future careers will require some post-high school education — I also think that the college years can be an opportunity to challenge the intellectual spirit, to push oneself to his or her academic limits, become an independent adult, and to discover and appreciate the role and responsibility that one has a contributing member of our society. Our world needs that. And while all of our students definitely need to acquire pragmatic training, skills and knowledge beyond what high schools today are providing, they’ll also need to develop human artistic expression; to respect and learn from our many differences as both individuals and as cultures; to think critically and independently; and to understand the values that make our open, democratic society worth fighting for.
Maybe that’s just the hopeless romantic in me. I welcome your comments.
Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Valentine’s Day!