THE PERILS OF PLACING VALUE ON
PRESTIGE OVER RIGHT FIT
May 15, 2023
By Leanne Soulard
I love this time of year. Seniors have decided where they will attend college and are on top of the world heading into graduation, and juniors are excited to explore colleges and build their college lists. I imagine this is what a wedding photographer must feel like every time they show up to work, surrounded by a crowd of happy people celebrating what the future holds. But this kind of ecstatic enthusiasm for what lies ahead can create blind spots that prevent us from seeing certain realities about the world. This is especially true when it comes to college admissions.
Growing up in New England, and Boston especially, is a bit of a blessing and a curse for students. The concentration of highly prestigious colleges and universities is almost absurd and this creates a false narrative about what “a good college” is for many. If you’ve read some of my other posts then you know that one of my least favorite phrases is “a good college,” as in:
“You need to be competitive if you want to get into a good college.”
“You need to take all honors and AP classes if you want to get into a good college.”
“You need to join a bazillion clubs and organizations, and be captain of all your sports teams, if you want to get into a good college.”
“You need to complete thousands of community service hours if you want to get into a good college.”
And my personal not-favorite:
“A good college has a really low acceptance rate.”
As juniors begin to hone their college lists, it’s important that the well-meaning adults in their lives don’t perpetuate the great myth that the prestige of a school is equal to the quality of the education it provides. This is why at College Edge we define “a good college” as one that is a right fit for each student’s academic, social, and financial means and goals. The truth is that the majority of colleges admit more than 50 percent of applicants and it has been proven time and again that academic prestige does not necessarily correlate to career or financial success. Nor does it correlate to the quality of education a student receives—Columbia University recently suffered public humiliation for gaming the rankings with unsubstantiated data and University of Puget Sound, which admits almost 90% applicants, is one of the top-producing institutions of Fulbright Scholars. Go figure.
Parents, one of the most supportive things you can do to keep your student’s stress low and enthusiasm for the future high is to take a step back and think about the language you are using when it comes to opining about the colleges on their list. Just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t mean that it’s not a right-fit college for your student. Encourage this growth mindset by being curious yourself when it comes to the lesser known schools your student may uncover. Maybe plan a road trip to one or two of them. There are a lot of hidden gems out there!
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