July 10, 2020
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr Bradshaw,
I will be a high school senior in the fall. Spending the majority of the second semester of my junior year online has certainly changed my college search plans which called for campus visits this summer.
My academic strengths are leading me to a school that excels in preparing students for careers in business that might require a graduate degree. My SAT score is 1400 and I have a 3.5 unweighted GPA.
I am not sure how to choose the college that is right for me. How do you suggest I structure my search? Are college rankings helpful?
Choosing The Right College A DEfining Moment In Life!
You are correct in that it is important to choose a school that is right for you. However, in offering my advice, I want to play down the notion that deciding which college to attend amounts to a defining moment in your life. It does not.
Would you be better off at Penn than at UC Berkeley or at Columbia rather than the University of Chicago? College ranking or name recognition is not a predictor of the personal fulfillment you will gain at a school. It is the area of study you choose and your accomplishments (both social and academic) at the college of your choice that matter. Is there a measurable tool that can help you make a decision? In my opinion there is not.
I have had some clients whose parents use a spreadsheet to plot the value of attending a potential college to within a thousandth of a percentage point. The categories they use include a school’s place in the national rankings, the quality of the faculty, department name recognition, powerful alumni—the list is almost endless. They also factor in geographical location, diversity stats and the number of Nobel Laureates connected to the school.
Take the Nobel stat for example, UC Berkeley ranks third on the list of Nobel Laureates while Columbia ranks sixth. Does that mean that UCBerkeley is better than Columbia? Not necessarily.
Adding to the pressure of students who are making college choices are parents who become 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 greatly exaggerated, and in particular are unsubstantiated if you compare future income differentials with other college graduates. University of Notre Dame ranks near the top of the list for sheer alumni loyalty in the Midwest but is that a reason to go there?
College admissions applicants for the Class of 2024, despite finishing their senior year in high school largely in absentia, had it relatively easy when it came to admittance because of all of the uncertainty’s schools are facing with the pandemic. No one has a handle on how many international students will be able to attend this fall. It is felt that many students (both foreign and domestic) are considering a gap year before committing to a school because they were unable to visit the schools of their choice. Virtual visits are no replacement for a physical campus visit.
All of this means that when you apply for the College Class of 2025 you will be in a pool with those who have taken a gap year as well as an increased number of international applicants. Determining what to do as you move forward in a post-COVID world means that you have to stay up-to-date with higher education trends on a regular basis. Your academic record is strong so you should be able to gain admission to the school of your choice.
U. S. News and World Report lists Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton in a tie for the top business schools in the country. Northwestern University and the University of Chicago as third and fourth, and MIT and Harvard at five and six. Rounding out the top ten are Columbia, Yale and NYU. There are many state schools whose programs are also worthy of exploring.
Ultimately, no matter wherever you choose to go to college, a degree from an elite college will not put you ahead in life if you are lazy and unimaginative. An outstanding performance at a lesser-known college will trump a lackluster effort from a top college and this levels the playing field. Keep this in mind as you go through your options. Your college choice does not define you it will only make it possible for you to discover yourself and prepare you for a fulfilling career.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
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