October 26, 2018
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am a high school junior. I have excellent test scores, a high GPA and an impressive list of extracurricular activities. How do you suggest that I go about choosing a college that will be right for me? Should I apply only to elite colleges with top rankings?
Field of study, costs figure prominently in college choice
It is important to remember that college rankings and name recognition are not predictors of your ultimate success in life or your career. You may be surprised to learn that each year I have a few clients whose parents use a spreadsheet to plot the value of attending potential colleges to within a thousandth of a percentage point. The categories include a school's place in the national rankings, the quality of faculty, departmental name recognition, powerful alumni, etc. The list is almost endless. Some parents even place colleges into categories that list geographical location, diversity, and the number of Nobel Laureates. I have even had clients rank the number of parking spaces set aside for students!
Since you have top grades and test scores, it is now time to reap the fruits of your labor. Social trends have raised the status of elite colleges and it is important to choose the one that is a good fit for you and that can help to further your career aspirations. In offering my advice, I want to dismiss the notion that deciding on your college of choice will be a defining moment in your life. It will not. Would you be better off at Penn than Berkeley? Or Columbia rather than the University of Chicago? Based on the rankings, it makes no difference because these schools are all ranked so closely together.
Adding to the pressure of making the right choice are parents who are obsessed with getting their children into specific colleges. Harvard ranks at the top of nearly every list for the Ivy League.
The aura surrounding Harvard and the perceived benefits afforded students are exaggerated, and, I should add, are unsubstantiated in comparing future income differentials with other college graduates. The University of Notre Dame ranks near the top for pure alumni loyalty in the Midwest. Is that a reason to choose to go there? Not if the academic programs the University offers are not geared to your strengths.
The first thing you need to think about is what your major field of study will be and let that be your guide. This will help you to plow through the school’s online catalogs for courses that will enhance your career goals.
You should also consider the costs for each school you consider. You do not want to drown in college debt and elite colleges can be pricey. Take a look at a school’s internship opportunities as well. Summer employment at a top firm will look awfully good on your resume and may lead to a job offer when you graduate.
No matter where you go to college, a degree will not guarantee success in your career or your life. Ultimately your college educational experience is all about the personal effort you put into it. An outstanding academic record from a lesser-known college will trump a lackluster effort from a top college any day. Keep that in mind as you go through your options. College will not define you — it will only make it possible for you to discover yourself and grow intellectually.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
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