Wednesday, May 5, 2010

High School Angst

I happened to have lunch today near a spot where many high school students passed after completing some exam that I gathered to be relatively important in the grand scheme of college admissions. It was obvious to me that these students had assigned enormous importance to their performance on this test and, I am sad to report, they virtually dripped with angst.

Didn't all the studies come out five years ago showing that we parents and teachers were over-hyping the importance of getting into any particular "school of choice"?

Wasn't it clearly shown that Stanford, MIT, and the Ivy League schools conferred a small lifetime benefit in income but the next 2500 schools were pretty equivalent? Didn't it also show that income had no correlation with personal fulfillment and social success in general?

Wasn't it strongly advised that students shouldn't marry the idea of attending any particular school given the giant crap shoot that the admissions process has become?

Weren't the data incontrovertible that, upon University graduation, students were really happy that life circumstances had led them to a four-year experience at a school that was originally low on their B list?

If any of you imaginary readers are in high school, here is my advice: Try to get good grades, participate in extra-curricular activities, and do community service, but be sure you are paying attention as you go and learning from all of that effort and experience. If you are merely marching through an exercise in rounding out a solid college application, you are missing the point.

As you make the transition to University, aim high but don't despair if you need to attend your 5th choice. It is true that you get out what you put in, so the quality of your education is in your own hands, regardless of the name on the old brick buildings. Also, it is equally important during college to grow up and to hone your life values as it is to master bio-chemistry (unless you are a pre-med student and then it is more important to master bio-chemistry).

Too many of the students I saw today were crestfallen by the thought that they had not performed well on their test. Their logic was that the poor performance meant that they would not be accepted to the top University of their choice and therefore would lead a failed life. This is not true and it is unfair of parents and teachers to let them believe this just because it is an effective tactic to motivate academic effort.


  1. Anonymous5/06/2010

    I echo your comment: you get out of it what you put into it - this applies to anything. It's so true.

  2. i'm so glad you posted this! this generation is very competitive and has a very specific mentality when it comes to college: 1) Must get into top University, 2) Must know what they want to major in/do for the rest of their life

    the benefits of your "5th choice" as you put it: Less academic pressure and more opportunities to be a leader. I think an employer would rather see you held leadership roles in a State University club then merely attended meetings at an Ivy League club. Also, that A- paper you wrote at State University would be a C- at an Ivy League. Same paper, different grade. That is not good for confidence.

    Your college is one line on the resume. What goes below is determined by how well you fit in with the college you choose. The A- State University student will be far more confident than is counterpart, C- Ivy League student.

    So many parents and students overlook the importance of social growth in addition to intellectual growth. It is the reason why I am getting my masters in Student Affairs.

    I strongly suggest this mentality for anyone getting into business and communication fields. If you want to build the next space rocket, then, uh, yeah... concentrate on that SAT score.