Beyond Words

Words, Wit and Wisdom for Today's Style and Decision Makers

Tuesday’s Tip: Choosing a College That’s Right For YOU March 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 12:26 am

College bound

“The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating.”

John Schaar



If you are a high school senior (or the parent of one), you know it’s time to decide what university you are going to attend next year if college is your plan. Many have already done so, with dorms at countless schools already full. It’s not too late though and according to a bestselling book, there’s a college for every one and a high-ranked one may not be your best bet.


I was recently hired to proofread college entrance essays for a high schooler looking to attend a top-tier university. She’d already been accepted to both UT and Texas A&M but was holding out for an Ivy League. This struck me as odd, as UT and A&M are amazing schools and are also so many kids’ first choices! I’ve always said I feel sorry for UT and A&M alums as the odds of their kids being accepted to their alma maters are low considering both school’s “top 10 percent” acceptance policies.


I feel blessed. Kristen was accepted to my alma mater and her first choice “dream school,” the University of Oklahoma, and is thriving. She is a smart girl who works hard…an above average student from an above average public high school who is proving herself at a highly competitive major university. She is also having fun. Let me say that again, she is also having fun and enjoying college life.


This, come to find out, is just as important as making grades and making Dean’s Lists.




Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” is a bestseller and in it Gladwell writes about, among many things, whether Harvard and the likes are really the right places for a child, even if they are accepted.


Crazy, right? Shouldn’t Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and other elite universities be the goal of every student and their parents? Apparently not.


Gladwell warns readers that college is expensive so why waste time and money at a school where you may not succeed to your fullest capacity? Yes, it’s impressive to be accepted to certain schools if you’re a high-achiever but just like clothes, even if it fits doesn’t mean you should wear it.


Bill Nye



Gladwell writes about a student at Brown University who loved science but ended up not pursuing it because her confidence sank to all-time lows in the school’s hyper-competitive atmosphere. You see, she was surrounded by students who quickly grasped concepts she was having trouble learning. This one-time whiz kid had always been a “top 1 percenter” but she suddenly found herself simply mediocre.  She was good enough to be accepted to Brown but not good enough to compete with her college colleagues. She met her match and felt out of her league. This was something she wasn’t prepared or equipped to handle. She ended up changing her major and pursuing another path…somewhat reluctantly.


Gladwell argues that had the young girl attended a less-demanding university, she may have stuck with her first love and gone on to do extraordinary things in the field.


In his book, Gladwell reports that the distribution of science degrees is identical at say a Harvard and a more mid-tier university. In both, the top third of a class got 55 percent of the science degrees while the bottom third received only 17 percent of them.   Research also shows that the top 1 percent of students from much-less-demanding schools produce more research papers in the first six years of their academic careers than most of the people who earned Ph.Ds. at the most demanding graduate schools – Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford and the University of Chicago. In other words, if you’re determined to major in a given field, doing so at any university may prove more beneficial than doing so at the Harvards and Yales of the world.


It is my belief that if a really smart and/or talented young kid attends a university that isn’t necessarily the strongest or the best, that student has a chance to really shine and set themselves apart. Not all students are highly competitive or need to be the smartest tools in the shed. There is much more to college…and life…then finishing first.


It’s equally important to feel comfortable where you go to college. I’m a big proponent of college visits and living in a dorm your first year on campus. The years you spend in college should be some of the most memorable of your life. You are going to work the rest of your life, so why take everything so seriously and be so miserable? You should be learning and growing not struggling and waning.


Grad cap

If all that doesn’t convince you, how about another reason why choosing the best college for you and not one based solely on reputation is important: the cost of going to college. It’s estimated that attending Harvard comes to just under $60,000 a year and other comparable schools average about the same. Do the math. That’s about a quarter of a million dollars for a degree that you might have also received for about half the price at another respected university.


Is it really worth it? I guess it depends on you and your wallet. Me? I prefer a happy child pursuing something she loves at a place where she feels loved.


Maybe Steve Jobs said it best when he said, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by the results of other people’s thinking and don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s