Demythologizing College Admissions

Article excerpt

The college admissions season is now in full swing, and with it comes the onset of pervasive, destructive myths about America's colleges and universities. This is particularly acute among the families of the best high school students, those who have Ivy League aspirations.

The admissions season is also the time when those of us reviewing applications and conducting family and student interviews start to hear certain myths born of insecurity.

Myth No. 1: If you don't get into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, your life is ruined.

This misperception assumes that the world is inordinately affected by what less than a tenth of 1 percent of the college- going population does (attend Ivy League colleges).

It's like saying that without Armani and Prada we'd all have absolutely nothing to wear.

But, in fact, American higher education is the envy of the world because of its diversity, its pluralism, and its bountiful opportunities for any deserving student.

While the Ivies are certainly excellent institutions, a recent study cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that many of those top 10 percent achievers who do not attend Ivy League schools may actually end up earning slightly more.

Myth No. 2: There are only winners and losers in high schools, and success getting into college is a race that goes only to the swiftest.

Nearly all of my professional colleagues would testify that a student with ambition and breadth can hold his or her own against a student with stellar grade-point averages.

If students take challenging high school courses (calculus if possible, four years of rigorous English, four years of a foreign language, history, biology, chemistry, and physics), then they will have outstanding options for admission to college, and will in all likelihood succeed once they get there.

Sadly, our super-achieving cohort is so obsessed with being No. 1 that many high schools now observe at graduation the mystifying practice of naming five or six valedictorians, as if to say, "If first is best, then lots of firsts are even better!"

In the United States there are nearly 3,000 institutions of higher education, including two- and four-year schools. They are big or small, selective or open, secular or religious, urban or rural, ivory-tower or trowel- and-jackhammer, rigorous or not -and every shade in between. …