When it comes to the college search and selection process there is a lot of information out there. From social media to the media to the internet, there are lots of places to learn about how to find the “best college.” Unfortunately, some of what’s out there tries to simplify something that is both nuanced and complex. While I cannot even scratch the surface in a single blog post, I would like to try and dispel a few frequently heard rumors.
The first is about the the uber-selective schools like Stanford, the Ivies, and so on. These are classified as “reach” schools. But here’s the rub: they are reach schools for everyone. You could be valedictorian, captain of 3 varsity teams, president of multiple clubs, and president of the class and still not be admitted. These schools have the privilege to sift through tens of thousands of applications for the students they want, and because their yield rate (conversion rate of accepted students to matriculated/enrolled students) is so high they come close to accepting just the right amount of students they are looking to enroll.
I also often hear that all state schools are “likely” schools. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The admission rate for the University of North Carolina, Chapel-Hill is ~26%. It is often true that a state school’s admission rate for in-state applicants is higher, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a likely school. It’s crucial to work closely with the admission office and your school counselor or transfer coordinator to determine your fit. Additionally there are many private schools with higher admission rates, like Juniata College (recognized as a College That Change Lives) which accepts around 70%.
Another rumor is that selectivity is the indicator of the “quality” of the school. This is also not true. Certainly, highly selective schools have grand reputations which are well earned. At the end of the day though, all selectivity tells anyone about the school is just that…how picky a school is. It doesn’t provide any insight about job placement, quality of the education, and quality of the student experience. Instead, judge the quality of the school upon its merits:
- Does it offer the academic program you are interested in?
- What sort of courses are offered? How are they taught? Does that work for you?
- Does it have the extracurricular offerings you are interested in?
- What are the students and faculty like? Are they people you want to live, eat, and learn with?
For years college admission professionals and higher education leaders have gotten wrapped up in the various rankings and guide books. Certainly there a lot out there that claim to be the authority on identifying the “best school,” but the best for whom? I assure you that no college president nor board of trustees nor board of higher education sets out to see “how can we be the worst school.” They are mission driven organizations run by mission focused leaders. A student could attend any of the 3500+ colleges and universities and get a fantastic education. Instead of answering “what’s the best,” try to answer “what’s the best school for me?” This will force you to consider your wants, needs, and aspirations.
Remember you aren’t alone on this journey. It is easy to get lost and feel directionless. When that happens look around to see who you can talk to for guidance. Certainly you can reach out to me for help, you can talk with your secondary school counselor, you can meet with the transfer adviser at your community college, or talk with a mentor at a local community based organization.