I disagree with part of what New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, said – and take issue with what he didn’t say – in his recent column about the madness of this College Admission season.
Yes, it is a ridiculous and harmful obsession that some parents have, shared at times by their teens, with getting accepted to an elite, highly-selective college.
And yes, “getting in” can become the narrowest of goals in this March Madness college admission season.
But – can I be honest here?
I think it really DOES matter where you go to college.
But probably not for the reasons you think.
First – the name brand cachet does opens doors.
When I applied for internships during and for jobs after college, every single interviewer I met labeled me (rightly or wrongly) as smart based upon the school from which I had graduated.
“You went to Smith? My (daughter/wife/niece/cousin) went to Smith. You must be smart.”
(note that the interviewer in my day was always a man. always)
The name of my college opened doors – got me interviews, introduced me to well-connected alums. But it was up to me to achieve once I got in that door.
So if your teen pushes for a brand name school, he understands its name will always be on his resume. He’s right; that name alone will ease his path to jobs and graduate schools.
Second – going to a selective college offers a diverse and intellectually stimulating community in which to live.
Much of the learning in college comes from outside the classroom – which is why it is so important to attend a college where you will be surrounded by people you will learn from.
And, assuming a student, is open to new ideas, because this is really what college is about, isn’t it? – she will not learn as much from people who look like her, think like her and grew up near her than she would from people who are dissimilar.
Diversity does matter – because highly-selective schools can afford (although not all do) to offer more financial aid, a student is more likely to find a truly diverse student community, in terms of background, beliefs, ethnicity, race and social class in a more selective school.
Third – and most important, IMHO, where you go to college matters to a student’s mental health.
Bruni does not discuss this but parents and students must.
The absurd stress of the college admission process is but a harbinger of things to come. If a student gets accepted to the dream elite school of her choice, the prize is an entrance ticket into an even more highly stressful academic environment.
Highly-selective schools function as pressure cookers, packed with intensely focused kids driven to succeed and achieve, to get that A, to find the best internship, to land a prestigious job after graduation or get into a top medical school.
And the impact of all of that stress?
An increasingly deleterious impact on the mental health of college students. More students than ever, according to a recent UCLA study, report feeling anxious, depressed and/or stressed.
The University of Pennsylvania, seeking its own answers after a series of student suicides, acknowledges but wants to change its own campus culture of “destructive perfectionism” – – a culture sadly familiar to many at top colleges where similarly driven students put immense pressure on themselves to achieve and then think they have failed themselves (and perhaps their parents) if they don’t meet their often overly-ambitious goals.
Don’t the most selective of colleges bear much of the responsibility for the creation of this pressure cooker culture since it is the colleges themselves that have ratcheted up, with each passing year, this March Madness of the college admission season?
So step back a minute.
If accepted to a highly selective school yes, it’s true that its’ name brand will be a helpful lifetime credential and connection.
And yes, an elite top college may provide the most diverse community in which to live.
But perhaps – even if your student gets accepted by the most tippy-top, elite of schools, because of his perfect grades, mega test scores, impossibly impressive list of awards, achievements and leadership positions, even if your son or daughter is the kind of student who could barely find time to floss in high school, given how busy he or she was keeping up the most competitive of applicant resumes –
Perhaps your student should do the unexpected – and say “no, thank you” to that most elite of colleges?
What if your student instead considered instead a college with a culture that is not one of “destructive perfectionism” – but instead one that will support as well as challenge a student.
Here’s the plan:
- Colleges must take the first step to lessen the pressure to be perfect in order to be accepted.
- Parents must dial down their expectations.
- Our students must get the message that colleges (and high schools) are places in which to enjoy learning, to thrive in instead of being driven into a frenzy of unrealistic achievement goals.
Then the only March Madness will be the games we watch on T.V.
Let’s all bet on that.