Rethinking the College Application/Admissions Process
Prioritizing Good Fit Over Name Brand
Yes, I admit it – I’m a product of consumer culture. When I was thirteen years old, I was a diehard Michael Jordan fan. And one day, my best friend showed up at school with a brand-new pair of Jordan 4s. As much as I loved him as a brother, I could not help but feel angry and envious of him as I stared at his clean Jordan kicks and then at my own pair of beatdown Reebok low-tops.
Of course, I got over it. Okay, kinda. “Sneakers are sneakers,” my dad reminded me. “They’re made to protect your feet, and that’s all.” But, in truth, even to this day, I can sometimes be that same impetuous boy. When thinking about the next sneaker I am going to buy, I don’t always heed my dad’s advice. I also don’t entirely ignore the brand of the shoe I want to buy or its “coolness” factor. Put a pair of Jordans in front of me today next to a less recognizable brand, and I promise you that I will experience some serious internal conflict. This conflict comes because, admittedly, I can, at times, be too connected to name brands and less driven by what is the best fit for me and my needs.
This consumer mindset is no different when it comes to college. This struggle is real with my students and, oftentimes, even worse for parents/family members. I see it especially when the time comes to create a list of universities that the student will be applying to. They often load the list with schools that have "name recognition,” giving little to no consideration to whether those schools would be an ideal fit for the student. I get it. It happens to the best of us!
But, in my role as an independent college consultant, I spend a lot of time encouraging my students, and especially their parents/family members, to try and think about this process a little bit differently. Rather than focusing solely or mostly on the name, give earnest consideration to other important factors that would make a school a great fit for the student – for example, size of the student population, student-professor ratio, location, cost, school culture, student and community demographics, internship and study abroad opportunities, and emphasis in the subject areas the student is passionate about. In my humble opinion, these factors will ultimately make the student’s college experience a fulfilling and successful one, not the school’s name. Will a highly motivated and hardworking student who attends the 100th-ranked college in the US and crushes it academically be successful in graduate school, career, and life? Absolutely, and there are countless examples of successful academics, professionals, entrepreneurs, and leaders who attended non-brand name schools to prove it.
With the current generation of high schoolers, I can see the “brand name” paradigm shifting, which is a wonderful thing. The students who I work with are far more practical and level-headed in their approach to university applications, and I would guess (and hope) that when they grow up and have their own families, and their children apply to college, the paradigm shift will likely be complete, and that is a good thing. No longer will students and their parents/family members be applying to schools based on name alone. The brand. They will be more motivated to apply to schools that fit the student’s personal needs and wants. To be clear, students will and should still aim to gain acceptance into their dream schools, whether name brand or not. But those universities will be considered “dream” schools because they are the ideal fit for that particular student. There are countless universities across this country (and the globe) that might not be as familiar by name but will nonetheless offer equally fantastic academic and personal experiences, readying students for their future careers and lives.
Nowadays, when it comes to buying sneakers, I force myself to pause and think, reminding myself of my own advice about college. If those pair of Jordans I see fit my specific needs and wants for shoes, I will consider buying them. But if they don’t, I will be certain to expand my search, knowing there might be other shoes out there that might work even better for me and deserve my consideration, that, simply put, might just be a better fit.
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Time for you to get to work on the College Application Essay that will really move the needle in your favor during the admissions process. And better yet, you’ll learn more about what makes you YOU!