When I first heard about the college bribery scandal that’s dominated headlines the past week or so, I was furious. Well, full transparency, my knee-jerk reaction was to laugh because seriously, Aunt Becky? But then I learned the details about what went on, and I was furious.
I was furious because I remember being in high school, staying up all night studying for exams, running for leadership positions, and juggling sports practices because I was one of those kids with a dream school. I was furious because I remember how terrifying the college admissions process can be – at least, with no super wealthy, super famous parents helping you out. I was furious because I knew this meant somewhere, there are students still stinging from rejection because their spots were given to people who didn’t earn it.
I was furious because, yet again, high school students all over the country are being taught that going to college isn’t enough on its own. They’re being shown that what matters is going to a prestigious school with a big name that impresses people – and this is so important, people are rigging the system to make it happen. The admissions process often feels unfair; this entire debacle can make it feel positively hopeless.
And that’s why I wanted to issue this reminder: your college acceptances, and your rejections, matter a whole lot less than you probably think they do.
I get the struggle. As I said before, I had a dream school and I had my heart set on going there. I worked my tail off with that singular goal in mind – and there is nothing wrong with that. However, a decade after receiving the decision letter and almost six years after getting a college degree, I know one thing for certain: college is what you make it, and your educational journey is a deeply personal one. Where you learn matters so much less than what you learn, why you learn, and how you use it.
A Chicago tribune article written by reporter Heidi Stevens conveyed similar sentiments so perfectly:
“College doesn’t define you. College shapes you. College takes the high school you and molds it into a grown-up you. But they key component there is you. Your ideas. Your work. Your voice. You bring all of those things to college, and college helps you figure out what to do with them. “
You will study under brilliant, passionate, life-changing professors wherever you go. You will meet friends who stand by you through life’s biggest moments and mentors who shape the course of your eventual career, wherever you go. You will discover your passions, your voice, and yourself wherever you go. The version of yourself that emerges from college will be so vastly different from the you that entered it that you can’t even comprehend it until you experience it – and the name across your sweatshirt or at the end of your student email address will be a part of your story, but not the star of your story.
It’s easy to get swept up in the big names, the rankings, and the prestige, and it’s even easier when news stories reinforce the idea that those are the things that matter. These things are not what college is about. The rejections and the acceptances that you receive during this crazy process are not the finish line that tell you if you’re finishing first or last. In reality, they’re the starting line of a thrilling and limitless new adventure… and you’ll find that no matter where you end up.