Question: Who “wins” the college admissions game?

Player 1 was accepted into Harvard, his dream school.

Player 2 was denied from every highly selective school to which she applied. She also applied to and was accepted by High Point University, her safety school in a sea of “lottery schools” from which she was denied.

If we stop the game here, Player 1 is the clear winner. He has the prestigious university and the application plan that went according to his plan. Player 2 is settling. She had an application plan that was not smartly put together, and is dealing with the result.

But guess what? The “game” doesn’t stop there. And that’s because life doesn’t stop there.  There is more to it than just getting in. Once a student gets in, he or she has to attend, work hard, interact skillfully with professors and peers, apply for and win research opportunities, pass classes, get internships…

What if we zoom forward three years from the scenario with which we started? What if we find out Player 2 is thriving? She is a “big fish in a smaller pond” about to do a semester in Florence with an internship for global marketing. She already has a job offer from her last internship in the summer, and she’s weighing that against the decision to continue on to graduate school. Possibilities abound. The failure she felt senior year being rejected from so many more prestigious colleges is just a blip in the past she doesn’t have time to dwell on.

Meanwhile, Player 1 has, amid the incredible pressure of his immensely talented peers and the increased expectations of college life, dropped out. He’s taking time off while his mother encourages him to transfer into the local state university so he doesn’t fall further behind. He wasn’t a good fit for the pressure, and he had no idea it was going to be that way. He had applied and decided to attend his first college because of the name recognition. “If you get in to Harvard, you go”, his dad had told him. So he went, and he failed. It was never a good fit.

Who is “winning” the game now?

There’s a bigger idea here that’s so important for students and parents to remember. They must remember the end goal. What is this all for? What’s most important in this process? Is it bragging rights about how selective a school you could get into? It shouldn’t be. You likelihood of success is not correlated with the lower the admissions percentage of the school you attend.

Seniors, as you get your acceptances, think long term. Think realistically about your priorities. At Guru, we celebrate every success, not just the ones that come with single digit selectivity percentages, because we know we work hard to help families put together college lists that are based on substance—places our students will thrive academically, socially, and financially.  And when Harvard says yes to the right kid, we celebrate that, too! The same way we do for Ole Miss, Syracuse, Stanford and everywhere in between.