There are too many stories out there that talk about all the kids who get into Ivy League colleges. We hear about the private tutors, college counselor, and of course the great over achievers. But for the rest of us, we would rather live our lives.
Junior year of high school is the biggest pressure cooker out of all four years. Parents start making you think about college, the experts say the grades you receive are the most important, you’re preparing to take the SAT’s (plus whatever other standardized test there is that year) while trying to keep your grades up, and of course, you need to do extracurricular activities otherwise you won’t stick out on any of the applications you submit. Reading about these issues can only make it worse for students, and their families, who worry about whether they are making the right moves.
But what most newspapers and magazines focus on doesn’t actually coincide with reality. According to Research Fellow for education studies at American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Andrew Kelly, these are not the typical stories most students go through. Kelly said most perspective students look at public colleges and universities that are close to home and competitive. According to Kelly
“a lot of times the story about college choice and rankings and stuff, is they just focus so heavily on really high achieving students or helicopter parents who are really on their case about getting into college. And frankly, because of all that attention, sometimes it makes us pay not enough attention to the vast majority of students.”
It’s always if you don’t get into the right pre-school, you won’t get into the right kindergarten, then you won’t get into the right elementary school which means you have no chance to get into the right middle school. So forget about the top high school that Harvard saves spots for, and before you know it, your life is over. But not really. The dramatized stories distort reality, and worse, means “reporters” aren’t actually reporting.
These stories are only highlighted by college rankings such as Barron’s and the US News and World Report. But before you take them seriously, consider this. These rankings only take into consideration how selective a school is, not the knowledge students are supposed to get when they graduate. That means they need to get as many people to apply to them as possible so they can also reject as many people as possible. Colleges and universities spend tens of thousands of dollars on private firms to tell them how to get more applicants. By knowing what type of college students are applying they can also expand to other states where students aren’t all that far, and also students they would like at the college to expand diversity between states and races.
To make sure these perspective students apply, they make it as simple as possible. It is usually only one or two page application with a fancy title to make it seem more exclusive then it really is. Schools send these type of applications out to thousands of students a year. And of course, the application fee is waived. The student has nothing to lose, so why wouldn’t they apply?
A study conducted by Kelly and his colleagues, called What Parents Don’t Know about College Graduation Rates Can Hurt, found that when parents know the graduation rates of colleges their son or daughter is looking at, they are more likely to choose the one with the better rate. And if you were wondering, no, US News and World Report does not count graduation rates when assessing their schools. “Do I think the US News count for something, sure, but I think they mainly capture prestige and selectivity. So the problem is that it’s not all that helpful necessarily for people who are not the most sort of academically gifted or people who are looking for a moderately selective institution.” Kelly also said “And that’s partly why we did this in sort of to say most people aren’t splitting hairs in deciding where to go to school they are going where it is closest by and they can afford. So the question is if they had better information about those schools would that change their mind?” And it did.
So not only are all the stories written and all the assessments bogus, but they don’t even tell people the information they need or want to know.
Junior year of high school is a stressful time for families. The fact is a lot does ride on the university or college you go to. But what it doesn’t mean is you can’t or won’t learn anything less than what other students who go to “more exclusive” places. The system is so screwed up there is no reason to take any of it seriously or personally. Just visit the colleges, and pick the one the feels best for you. In the end, chances are, you’re not going to be in the field your degree prepared you for, or it was too broad for you to do anything with it. What does matter is that you take the opportunity to discover what you like and what area you want to be in. Knowing what you want to do when you graduate will make you more prepared than most other graduates out there.