In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to propose a romantic approach to college admission. It may sound strange, but whether you’re looking for a boyfriend, girlfriend or college, the courtship process can be similarly thrilling and anxiety-producing.
Getting into an Ivy League school is like getting asked to the prom by the most popular senior. It’s a great ego boost, and you feel so lucky, especially when everyone keeps telling you you’re so lucky. But will the experience live up to the thrill of the win? Just because a guy, girl or school is hard to get doesn’t mean they’re better, or that they’re right for you. Getting into the right college is like finding the right mate. Ninety percent of success is choosing wisely. You don’t pick the one who is most popular, but the one who brings out the best in you.
Just as a successful relationship is not about having toned abs or clear skin, but about your ability to be a caring and committed partner, being successful in college and in life have more to do with your personal qualities and skills than the selectivity of your school. What matters is what you bring to college and how the right college helps you realize your potential.
If everyone pursued the same person, life would be one long episode of The Bachelor. But different people thrive with different partners. You can have a terrific experience at a prestigious college while your friend or sibling is equally content at a less elite school. Over the winter break I heard from students who are having a great time at college, whether they’re at Stanford, USC, or Sonoma State. Some of them ended up at schools they weren’t even considering when they started the college admission process, and those students are just as happy as the ones who made it to the school they’d dreamed about for years.
The first step is to think about what you want in this partnership. Once you identify certain qualities that are important to you, it’s easy to find more than one person or college that has those characteristics. If you love USC’s business program, football games, Greek life, urban location with access to many internships and strong alumni network, you may very well also love SMU.
Even if you know exactly what you want, try to keep an open mind about how you’ll get it. Schools can be extremely similar in every way other than the average SAT scores and once you’re on campus, the selectivity really doesn’t matter. It’s about the experience you have there. Just like the guy who may have looked a little geeky at first but turns out to make you laugh and feel good about yourself, a college that may not seem like the most desirable choice can end up being a place where you thrive educationally and socially.
A successful courtship usually leads to a monogamous relationship. But when you first meet, you might be interested in several people, and that’s a good way to protect your ego. Likewise, as you’re looking at colleges, it’s good to consider lots of possibilities. Instead of investing everything in one dream school from the start, find something to like about every college on your list. You’ll end up with great choices and can fall in love with one that’s right for you.