Advice from the Experts on How to Win the College Game

College serves as a foundation for academic intellect, a springboard for personal growth and development, and the final bridge between dependence and “the real world”. In this capacity, it is one of the most critical points in a person’s life, and, for many, the most defining.

So much of our society today is concentrated on winning, and so much is focused on outcome. Even in high school, instead of focusing on what we are learning, we often worry more about how it will help us later in life or how our retention of it will.

In his book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, Frank Bruni explains a new perspective to parents and students. Contrary to the popular belief that a student’s future and worth is the college they choose to attend, Bruni proves that the Ivy League does not have a monopoly on academic and professional success. Getting into an elite school or calling yourself one of the 5% of applicants that Stanford accepts every year can hardly be considered winning. In order to succeed in college, it is necessary to choose the school that best fits you.

This belief that getting into a top college is comparable to winning a prize is what has led to the increasingly transactional system of college admissions, as Jeremiah Quinlan, Dean of Admissions at Yale University, describes it. Quinlan and other college admissions officers are critical of this process which establishes a mere checklist and doesn’t give students the opportunity to express themselves accurately.

At a stage in life in which people are impressionable at best and susceptible at worst, their relationship with the environment that surrounds them is vital to their success. According to Bruni, it is this relationship, and not school rank, that determines collegiate success. While going to a top-tier university certainly has its perks, success comes as a result of a student’s efforts, not the brand of the university.

But in a fast-moving society where names, numbers, ranks, and reputations often substitute campus tours, how can students really be sure that they find the best fit? How can they measure a relationship with a school from hundreds of miles away? Assistant Director of Admission at Princeton University Alexandra Herrero says that the best way to discern a student’s “best fit” while touring a realistic number of schools is to visit different types of schools. Try, for example, to get a glimpse of a school with a smaller student population and compare it to another college with a larger one. Observe the differences between public universities and private ones, and compare urban with suburban or rural campus regions. Harvard University Dean of Admissions’ advice is to find the school’s newspaper or another student publication. He believes that this is often a very authentic indicator of how students feel about their university and that their raw experience can speak more to a school’s environment than statistics given by admissions officers.

Mim Runey, President of Johnson & Wales University, provides the following 5 criteria to finding your college fit:

  1. Affordability

  2. Academic Program and Career Preparation

  3. Experiential Education and Co-op Opportunities

  4. Campus Appearance

  5. Comfort Level

So, juniors and seniors, instead of focusing on checking off extra-curriculars and studying excessively for the ACT, focus instead on finding your home for the next 4 years: where you will be nourished spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.

Further Reading:

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni


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