With college acceptances trickling in for Thacher seniors, and juniors beginning to start the process, college related stress is skyrocketing among the upperclassmen. This stress is sparked by an increasing national competition and decreasing acceptance rates, that have now prompted students and parents alike to force themselves to find consolation in not reaching for that top school. Academics and those actively involved in the college fervor have responded by declaring that maybe the top schools aren’t everything after all.
It seems that college is no longer just about the education one receives, but the name written in big script letters at the top of a diploma. The “big name” schools continue to draw more and more interest from prospective students because an education from a school with a strong reputation is associated with a more intelligent person. But why should just the name of your alma mater define your value?
Students feel pressured to go to the “best” school on their list, but what many don’t realize is that those schools may not be the best for them. One will most likely spend four or more years in the college they choose, therefore their decision must be a place they can truly call home. At Thacher, we are privileged to have a culture that is designed for just that, but in college that feeling can be hard to find.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m just a junior, what do I know about the college process? I mean I haven’t even taken the SAT yet, let alone dared to look at the dreaded common app.
Although I am yet to undergo the process myself, I’m surrounded by friends and family that have, and all were exceedingly open to sharing their opinions and experiences. I’m certain that I’m not the only one constantly getting advice, good or bad, about what’s “best” for my future. Like everyone else receiving all of this advice, we have the delightful task of weeding out what really matters.
Here are some of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard.
Follow your heart
I know it’s cheesy, but no one should make your decisions for you. Not even your parents. The reputation of the school won’t matter when you’re unhappy and unable to perform to your full ability. Recently, there seems to be a large trend of Thacher students transferring or leaving college altogether.
Thacher’s college office reports that in the past three years there has been an average of 9 students that transfer out of their original college. That number doesn’t even include students that have dropped out.
Though their reasons vary, the students were ultimately unhappy with their choices. It’s important that you make the best decision for yourself. Find what you’re passionate about and don’t fall into the Ivy League mindset if that’s not what you really want. College might not even be the best choice for you.
Don’t let the name influence your judgement
Obviously a better school is going to be more well known than a lesser known one, but you might be surprised by the quality of schools you may have never heard of. My brother, Ben Eastburn CdeP 2011, is an excellent example of this.
When I tell people that my brother goes to Williams College, I often get a puzzled look and a half-hearted, “Cool.” In actuality Williams is an amazing school that is ranked as the #1 Liberal Arts College in the nation by both Forbes and USNews, but because it doesn’t have the reputation of the Ivies it’s often overlooked.
In classic Ben style, he refused to even look at schools like Princeton and Yale even though he had the grades. Instead he chose a school that was the best fit for him.
Choose by the program
You are ultimately going to specialize in at least one field by the end of your college career. It’s okay to not know what you want to do (I honestly have no idea), but try to find a school that has the reputation for the same strengths as you. You wouldn’t go to Princeton for marine biology (they don’t even have a program), but UCSB has a great program. Boston University is known for their journalism program and Kenyon College has one of the strongest English programs in the country. A good reputation of a specific program can carry just as much weight in the workplace as a big name school.
Just like Thacher, you are going to be living and working with the students at your college, in most circumstances, for four years. So you might want to ask yourself, do I fit in with those around me?
Unfortunately, many of the elite schools attract and produce students that are just what you’d expect, elitist. William Deresiewicz, American essayist and literary critic, writes of his own experience of discovering that his elite schooling didn’t provide him the best education. In his article, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” he explains:
“As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them…My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me.”
Choose a school where the students are striving to improve not only themselves, but the world around them. Look for schools with students that value social justice, diversity (of all kinds), and making connections. Students that can encourage and motivate you to better yourself will ultimately provide you with the best learning and social experience necessary for life after college.
None of this may be new to you but it’s important to really take a hard look at what you want since you will be spending at least four years of your life in that place. Recent trends have shown scary statistics of mental health within the teen and late-teen population. William Deresiewicz, in his essay “Ivy League Schools Are Overrated Send Your Kids Elsewhere,” writes:
“Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.”
There is obviously a huge disconnect with how we choose our colleges and the actual experience of higher education. Is college about how other people will view us or how we can grow as scholars and people? Maybe it’s time to reconsider what a good college really is.
Mr. Mulligan recently wrote an article about some of these issues titled, “The Three Most Important Things You Can Ask Your Teenager.”
I sat down with him to hear a little bit more of his opinions and left with this wonderful piece of advice.
“I would hope that our kids and their parents would be willing to just do their homework about what great teaching looks like at colleges. I think that you can go to a well-known school and not get a good enough education as you could at the other colleges. For example, smaller liberal arts colleges probably have some of the best teaching in the country. So be open minded.”