The Myth of the “Best” College

It’s that time of year again where seniors are beginning to decide on what college or university they want to attend. They begin narrowing their choices from their “stretch” schools to their “perfect” schools to their “backups.” Unlike me who narrowed my college choice to 5, seniors today are applying to 10-15 or more colleges and universities. The pressure for students to get into and attend the “best” college is enormous. For many students, the expectation of getting into a highly ranked university is a burden that is unbearable. 

For the past four years, many students have been striving to get straight A’s, excel in and be the best in their extracurricular activities (sports, drama, music, etc.). They are expected to be involved in service activities to boost their college resumes and to differentiate themselves from others. Service to others has become a competition to get you into a prestigious university. There is an expectation, from schools, parents, and teachers that their student should get into the “best” college or university. Though all these can be good, the amount of pressure applied can become unhealthy.

Why is there so much stress over college applications? Why should students be expected to get into the “best” college or university? Let’s be honest for a minute. As a parent, I love talking to other parents about my son or daughter’s successes. When someone else’s son or daughter is doing better than mine, I do feel a sense of failure. I wonder, are we putting pressure on our students to get into the “best” university so that it makes us, the parents look good at the dinner parties? Are we applying the pressure so that it will make us look good and successful in our parenting? These are questions we must ask ourselves and check ourselves as we navigate the college application process.

There also seems to be a belief that there are only a few great colleges and universities out there. Or there aren’t enough colleges or universities for everyone. There is a fear of missing out and students may not be accepted into the “best” college. I am a firm believer that there is a college or university for everyone who wants to go to college. There is a place where our students will feel at home. Where they will grow and thrive. 

What if getting into the “best” college is a myth. Especially if we define best as a Stanford, Cal, Ivy league school or some other top end school (Don’t get me wrong there is NOTHING wrong with these schools if it works for your student). What if we re-define a “best” college as one that “best” fits our students. The best college is the one where our students feel most comfortable, most alive, where they believe they can grow and thrive. If you are like me as a parent, I want more than anything to see my kids grow and thrive as adults. For me, growing and thriving is defined by seeing my two kids becoming who God has created them to become, living the life that God has called them to live, not the life that I want them to live or what kind of life I think they should live. I want them to find the best college that fits them, regardless of what rank our society puts on it.

Let me encourage you that if you are a parent that is beginning the college process with your student to do the following:

  1. Breathe – There is a “best” college, university, trade school out there for everyone who wants to go. Breathe and rest in this possibility.
  2. Trust – For me, my faith in Jesus guides me. I trust that He will guide our family to the best place for our kids through much prayer, reading the Bible, and listening. We might make mistakes, but with God’s guidance, we will eventually get us there.
  3. Enjoy the process – You only get to do this once with your son or daughter, enjoy the ride, make it as light as possible and walk gently with your student through this process. Always encourage, always love, always trust, always dream with your student.
  4. Forgive often – We will make mistakes in the process. We will apply pressure when we shouldn’t. Seek forgiveness and give forgiveness.
  5. Give huge amounts of grace – We all need grace and love in our lives, especially during very stressful and tense times.
  6. Celebrate like crazy – Celebrate when every acceptance letter comes back.

I hope that we can make this college application season one that is full of joy, expectations, and dreams coming true.

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