The goal of the college application process is to get into the most rigorous, most prestigious college possible. Right? Well, maybe not. Because as you’ve already heard if you’ve attended one of my parent talks on the subject, “It’s not simply where you can get in … it’s where you can get out!”
Not everyone graduates in four years
First, consider the statistics. Graduation rates continue to be alarmingly low. And even for those who do eventually graduate, many do not do so in four years. It is very important to check graduation rates – some at the larger but well-known schools do not measure up. (It can be hard to get a needed class or classes are too big and students do not pass).
Not only does this delay your child’s move into “the real world,” from a strictly budgetary standpoint, an extra year or two of college equals an extra year or two of associated expenses.
So if the college your child plans to attend has a 50%, four-year graduation rate, there’s a reasonable chance that your child may be among those who take extra time.
Prestige is overrated
Striving for – and getting accepted into – the most rigorous and prestigious college that your child can find may create its own set of problems. Many students who barely make the cut getting into their dream school find themselves struggling to keep up with more accomplished kids – an abrupt change in relative academic standing from their high school experience, and one that can throw them for a loop.
If your child has any additional challenges, such as anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, ADHD, is on the autism spectrum, etc., the added academic pressure may be too much to handle, even with some additional support.
The families I work with occasionally arrive in my office with a list in hand, packed with prestigious institutions. I encourage them to put that aside at first. Not because I don’t want their students to be challenged academically, but because I believe that having a successful experience is what’s most important.
Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, David and Goliath, addresses this point specifically. He cites the “big fish, small pond” scenario and points out that many times a student may be happier and more successful both academically and in their future careers if they are able to thrive in a slightly less competitive environment.
(If you don’t have time to read, watch this 3-minute video with a similarly powerful message.)
And so this month, as you and your student move into college crunch time, do some work first to figure out where they are likely to be most successful. That may mean being open to learning about schools you’ve never heard of or that do not show up in national rankings.
Because remember, four years after college begins, a diploma in hand and a happy, confident student will mean a lot more to you than a famous school sticker on the back window of your car.