The set of extreme pressures that students are subjected to during the entire college preparation process – from their parents, their peers, society at large, and themselves – can terribly warp kids' picture of the road ahead and trigger totally unnecessary fear and anxiety. Rather than having a balanced, realistic view of their educational and career path, students distort this image into a polarized, dystopian outlook that has been distilled just to a terrifying pair of possible outcomes:
Harvard or hole-digger.
In this paranoid picture, the admissions process is a do-or-die affair: either the student will succeed in gaining entry to a heavily mythologized “dream school” such as Harvard or another Ivy or top-10 institution, or their life is basically over. A failure to gain entrance to the lusted-after top-rank university means utter failure; relegation to a future that excludes any hope of success in the student’s chosen field (unless they’d always wanted to be a hole-digger, of course). Shame and obscurity will be their fate.
This is abject nonsense. Rather than the college landscape consisting of polar extremes, with a dozen stratospherically amazing schools at the top and all others languishing at the bottom, the reality is that there is a continuous spectrum of schools, and for every student, there will be many well-matched options. More importantly, your future success and happiness are not primarily determined by the name of the school on your college diploma, despite it seeming that way during the crazed months leading up to your receiving decision letters. If you’re interested in reading about this issue in depth, take a look at Frank Bruni’s book “Where You Go is not Who You’ll Be,” and, if you want something more concise but no less compelling, read this article, whose author might come as quite a surprise.
Though this quest for admission to your “dream school” might seem like the most important thing in the world, and your emotions might swing wildly from hope and elation to hopelessness and despair, we are here to tell you that what really matters is who you are and how you choose to make use of your opportunities, whether at Harvard or your local community college – or anywhere in-between. Wherever you go, you’re still you, with all the same drive, ambition, smarts, and passion, and that matters far more than does the school name on your diploma.