Musings on the College Admission Race

John Dockendorf11 Oct, 2017
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AK1b-2016 (51)I originally wrote this blog as a polite response to a parent who has decided that as much as her son loves Adventure Treks, next summer, he will instead devote his time to SAT prep courses and college essay writing clinics instead of returning to the mountains he loves.

While I have seen many students take this summer track, I have never met anyone who, in retrospect, felt it was a productive way to spend the summer.

While proper preparation for any challenge is key, and a high SAT score along with great grades may qualify one for certain merit scholarships, I question the efficacy of investing time into taking a test where the intent is less about actual learning and more about making onself more attractive on paper to an admissions officer at an elite college.

Isn’t it a better idea to invest that time into building the skills which will help you better thrive in college once you arrive?

I encourage any family with a high school junior or senior to read Where You Go is Not Who You Will Be by the New York Times writer Frank Bruni.

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As the parent of a high school senior, I too was starting to get nervous about my daughter’s place in the college admissions game. This book put my daughter, my wife, and me at ease. It reminded us that ultimately it’s my daughter who is in charge of her education and her approach to life. College is merely an opportunity. Sure, it’s important for her to be immersed in a culture where she will thrive and be with peers and professors who share her values, but no college, regardless of the “brand,” is a magic wand or special elixir that will guarantee my daughter’s future success. Instead, it’s up to her to take advantage of the incredible resources she will discover at virtually any good university, apply herself, discover her passions, and maximize her learning and personal growth.

Despite the pressure she feels to get into an ivy league school, data shows that almost all Fortune 500 CEOs actually attended public universities and that ivy league graduates are significantly underrepresented in this elite club. While there is an initial earnings bump graduates of elite colleges may receive early in their career, it is usually nullified in less than 10 years as employees’ compensation becomes based on actual ability, contribution, and accomplishment, rather than on potential or educational pedigree.

Ultimately, though, I don’t believe that attending college should be about enhancing economic value—it’s about growing into the person you want to be, discovering new passions, making lifelong friends, forming relationships with professors and mentors, enhancing executive function skills, and building the skills and knowledge to become engaged citizens. And while there are distinct differences among colleges and their cultures, an engaged learner can fulfill these objectives at many different colleges, not at merely a few elite schools.

My oldest daughter will say that the highlight of her teenage years has been her five Adventure Treks trips. It’s certainly been a defining and confidence-building experience and the place where she has made her very best friends. Nothing we as parents could have done would have better prepared her for the resilience and independence she will need at college. As a result of grueling early morning summits, living in a close community with new friends from around the country, and surviving backpacks in pouring rain, I doubt that there is any mental challenge that college life can throw at her that she will be unable to overcome. It feels great to be able to have such strong confidence in my daughter. I know that whatever college my daughter attends, she will have an amazing experience and will be prepared to make the most of it. We, of course, will miss her!

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