March Madness, College Admissions Style

125890While many are excited in March about college basketball, high school seniors are going a little nuts waiting to hear back from their colleges. Will the answer be an acceptance, wait list, or denial?

Whatever happens, remember what New York Times writer Frank Bruni says in his new book: It’s OK.

Bruni visited New Trier High School last night and spoke to a packed auditorium of high school students, parents, counselors, and community members. I’m a fan of his, so I might be biased when I say this, but listen to this guy! It will be OK.

He began his talk with numerous statistics that show that the college you attend has little relation to how happy and successful you will be in life. Low acceptance rates do not equate to the quality of a college. It’s what you do at the college that matters. Unfortunately, the pessimistic economic conditions of the past decade have led families to trust in the myth that only selective colleges will guarantee future business networks and job security. “Getting In” becomes the focus; the college experience itself seems almost irrelevant.

But college can be one of the mosts unique and special times of your life if you choose to take advantage of what your school offers. The new Gallup Purdue Index evaluates colleges and concludes that students who make their college experience truly worthwhile are those who deeply engage in the college community, participate in internships, write a senior thesis or project, and create close relationships with faculty. Bruni suggests that instead of teaching high school students how to get into college, we should teach them how to get the most out of whatever college they choose to attend.

During your high school years, give yourself the space to try new things — not because they will look good on your transcript, but because you think they might be interesting. You might rock it out or you might crash and burn. But even if you fail miserably, you will learn a huge life lesson about falling down and getting back up. That might not directly connect to “getting in,” but it will be an invaluable experience for college and beyond.

So this month when you’re making your decision about where you’re going to college, ask yourself these two questions that Bruni asked his audience:

  • What college will up-end and broaden your world?
  • What college will fill in your blanks?

The answer to these questions may or may not be the most selective school on your list, but it will help calm your own March madness.

For more about Frank Bruni’s new book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, click here.

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