Dear Mr. Bradshaw — I have been accepted by the University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Notre Dame, California-Berkeley and Northwestern.
I have a big decision to make, and I had no idea it was going to be this difficult.
How do I choose the college that is best for me? Should I choose the most elite college based on rank? — Confused
— Congratulations on being accepted by so many elite colleges.
It is important to choose a school that is right for you, but in offering my advice, I want to downplay the notion that selecting a college amounts to a defining moment in your life.
It does not.
Would you be better off at Penn than at Berkeley, or at Columbia rather than Chicago? College ranking or name recognition is not a predictor of the personal fulfillment you will gain at a school. It is the area of study you choose and your accomplishments (social and academic) at the college of your choice that matter.
Is there a measurable tool that can help you make a decision?
In my opinion there is not.
Each year, I have parents who use a spreadsheet to plot the value of attending a potential college to within a thousandth of a percentage point. Categories include a school’s place in the national rankings, the quality of the faculty, department name recognition, powerful alumni — the list is almost endless. I even have had clients rank the number of parking spaces set aside for students!
For geographical location, diversity and the number of Nobel Laureates, Chicago ranks third, while Cal-Berkeley is sixth. Does that mean Chicago is better than Berkeley? Not necessarily.
Adding to the pressure of students choosing colleges are parents who are obsessed with getting their children into specific schools.
Harvard ranks at the top of every list for the Ivy League. The aura surrounding Harvard and the perceived benefits afforded students are greatly exaggerated and, in particular, are unsubstantiated if comparing income differentials with other college graduates.
Notre Dame ranks near the top for sheer alumni loyalty in the Midwest, but is that a reason to go there?
Ultimately, no matter where you choose to go to college, a degree from an elite school will not put you ahead in life if you are lazy and unimaginative.
An outstanding performance at a lesser-known college will trump a lackluster effort from a top college, and this levels the playing field.
Keep this in mind as you weigh your options.
Your college choice will not define you; it only will make it possible for you to discover yourself and prepare for a fulfilling career.