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NJ.com (March 2015)
By Kristin M. White
It's that time of year again: High school seniors and their parents are on high-alert waiting for news of their fate in the elite college admissions process. For many families, it has been years of planning and preparation, all culminating in the last gut-wrenching moment when they log on to their computers for a yea or a nay.
The saddest part of this rite of passage is that the majority of these accomplished students will log in only to see a rejection. Did you have your sights set on Stanford? They turned away almost 40,000 high school seniors last year, with only 2,145 students getting a positive nod. Scoring a perfect 800 on the math SAT doesn't help much either. In 2014, the Stanford's admit rate for those with perfect scores on the math SAT was only 9 percent.
And it's not just the super-elite schools. There are actually dozens of colleges which deny 80 percent or more of their applicants. Plan to go for a top public college instead? Think again; even UCLA and UC Berkeley have fallen into this ultra-selective range.
But the real question is: does getting into an elite college even matter? Is the experience at a top-rated university so much better that it propels students forward in life? The answer to this question is a surprising no. While it is true that elite colleges do a good job of collecting intelligent and motivated young adults, it's likely that those students will be as successful no matter where they go to college. A study designed to measure both the college experiences and the lives of college graduates was completed by Gallup- Purdue University in May 2014. It found that the selectivity of the college a student attended mattered less than what a student actually did while on campus. Studies by economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale likewise found that elite college attendance didn't give top students a boost in future earnings.
So if getting into an elite college isn't as important as students are led to believe, what is important?
There are many things students can do to assure they will thrive in college and graduate ready for a successful career and an independent adult life.
The real question is: does getting into an elite college even matter?
First, focus on developing skills in critical thinking and writing. Employers want to hire people who are strong in these areas, so students should chose classes and opportunities that will help them to continue to improve these important skills.
Second, connect with a professor and get to know him or her personally. The Gallup poll showed that students were twice as likely to be happily engaged and fulfilled in their post-collegiate work if, during their college years, they had a professor who cared about them as a person, encouraged them to pursue their goals, and made them excited about learning.
Third, get involved at college beyond academics. Join a group, or better yet, lead a group. Get an internship to help build job skills, such as teamwork and leadership, and gain valuable experience.
Finally, don't take on too much debt. Many young people today are crippled by student loans. They are finding that debt inhibits their ability to move forward in their adult lives. Of course, student-loan debt itself is not a bad thing, since loans are what make college a possibility for most Americans. It's too much debt that causes the problem. Students should consider a reasonable estimate of their future salary and expenses before determining the amount of their student loans. There is almost always a cheaper option to consider, whether it is a merit scholarship at a college where you are in the top of the applicant pool, a state university near home, or even a community college.
If you were one of the many thousands of students who were not admitted to elite colleges this year, take heart knowing your future is in your own hands, and your success was never going to be determined by the college you attended anyway. Take charge of your own education, build on your personal qualities, skills, and achievements, and academic and professional success will be yours in the future.
Kristin M. White is an educational consultant and author of the book "It's the Student, Not the College: The Secrets of Succeeding at Any School Without Going Broke or Crazy."