Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am a high school junior who has excellent test scores and has maintained a high GPA. How should I go about choosing a college that is right for me? Should I apply only to elite colleges with top rankings?
College rankings and name recognition are not predictors of your ultimate success in life or your career.
Each year I have a few clients with parents that use a spreadsheet to plot the value of attending a potential college to within a thousandth of a percentage point. Categories include a school's place in the national rankings, the quality of faculty, department name recognition, powerful alumni — the list is almost endless. Some parents will break colleges down into twenty categories such as geographical location, diversity, and the number of Nobel Laureates. I have even had clients rank the number of parking spaces set aside for students!
Since you have top grades and test scores it is now time to reap the fruits of your labor. Social trends have raised the status of elite colleges and it is important to choose the one that is a good fit for you and that can help to further your career aspirations. In offering my advice, I want to play down the notion that deciding on which college to attend amounts to a defining moment in one's life. It does not.
Would you be better off at Penn than Berkeley? Or Columbia rather than University of Chicago? Based on the rankings it makes no difference because these schools are all ranked so closely together.
Adding to the pressure of making the right choice are parents who are obsessed with getting their children into specific colleges. Harvard ranks at the top of every list for the Ivy League. The aura surrounding Harvard and the perceived benefits afforded students are exaggerated, and are unsubstantiated in comparing future income differentials with other college graduates.
Notre Dame ranks near the top for sheer alumni loyalty in the Midwest. Is that a reason to choose to go there? Not if the academic programs the University offers are not geared to your strengths. You need to think about your major field of study will be and let that be your guide.
No matter where you go to college, a degree will not guarantee success in your career or your life. Ultimately your college educational experience is all about what personal effort you put into it. An outstanding academic record from a lesser-known college will trump a lackluster effort from a top college any day. Keep that in mind as you go through your options. College will not define you – it will only make it possible for you to discover yourself and grow intellectually.
Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admission consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.
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