The 95%, or Where the Rest of Us Went to College

April 11th, 2014

Well, it’s that time again: High school seniors have found out where they’re going to college next year, and are either celebrating, or filled with despair (or maybe somewhere in between).

I certainly hope you (or your loved ones) fall into the celebration category.

But if you don’t, you aren’t alone. Thanks to the easier to submit “electronic” Common App, more people than ever applied to “elite” or top tier colleges.  This has led to more people than ever–95%–getting rejected. (Source: The New York Times)

I know not making it into your dream school (or even your second or third or fourth choice school) hurts. But fear not if you or your loved one is among the 95%, because I have good news:

Everything is going to be fine.

How do I know?

Because most of us fall into the 95%.  And because of facts.

Fact #1:

Did you know that in a new Gallup poll given to business leaders, only 9% ranked where an applicant went to college as “very important”?  They were more concerned with the applicant’s “knowledge” and “applied skills.” (Source: Inside Higher Ed)

Personally when I’m hiring someone (and I’ve employed a shockingly high amount of people in my lifetime), I rank “fashion sense” and “humor” as most important. But we all have our foibles.

Fact #2:

Just because your friend Tara got into your dream school and you didn’t doesn’t mean Tara is smarter or more talented than you are. Maybe Tara’s mom knows someone, or Tara got an interview, or Tara said something that really clicked on a personal level with someone reading her essay.

(As someone who worked in a college for 10 years, I can assure you that this happens A LOT. When any kid wrote/drew something on a form that made me laugh, I gave that kid anything he/she wanted. Work is boring.)

Do NOT take rejection personally. Make like Elsa in Frozen and let it go.

Fact #3:

“I don’t care where someone went to school,” says Warren Buffett, richest man on the planet (who attended University of Nebraska-Lincoln). “That never caused me to hire anyone or buy a business.” (Source:  The Wall Street Journal)

Warren prefers to work with people who make him laugh, too.  See?

Fact #4:

A vast variety of schools have yielded Fortune 500 CEOs. They include Southern Methodist University (#10 on the list) Texas A&M (#13), San Diego State (#16), Purdue (#18), University of Michigan (#18), and University of Kansas (#20). Indiana University tied with Northwestern (6 MBA  grads each). (Source: Poets and Quants.com)

Fact #5:

“You can go to a top-end school and end up dramatically underperforming, or you can go to a place that cares, and blow away what everyone thinks,” says Bill Green, retired CEO of global Accenture management consulting firm.

Green feels angry when he encounters “parents who are afraid or ashamed to say their son or daughter is attending a community college,” he says. Green attended a very small private college (Dean), and was very close to his professors there. (Source:  The Wall Street Journal)

Fact #6:

While I can completely understand the appeal of the Ivy’s since they’re so heavily endowed that they can offer free tuition to students from low-income families, and I know people think that going to a top tier school is necessary for networking, networking (and financial aid) is also available at state, technical, and community colleges as well. So are scholarships.

Fact #7:

Half of all college students go to community (or technical) college at some point in their lives. (Source: Business Insider)

So why, when it’s not necessary, and has even been proven to be harmful to them, do kids (and often their parents) put so much pressure on themselves to get into these top tier schools (aside from the free tuition, of course)?

Fact #8:

Some of that pressure may come from the schools themselves. By getting their application numbers up, the schools can advertise the following year about how popular (and selective) they are.

Many schools do this by sending marketing materials to perspective applicants they’re fully aware have no hope of being admitted. (Source: The New York Times)

Fact #9:

I know several college guidance counselors who complain that they can mention all the other many fine schools that are out there until they are blue in the face, but some young people (and occasionally their parents) are still only interested in the more famous “name brand” schools.

These students only want what they consider the “best,” because they’ve been told all their lives by the media (and often their parents) that they “deserve the best.”

But the  “best fit” often isn’t a “name brand” school, just as “name brand” jeans don’t look good on everyone. We all have to find our own style.

Fact #10:

We all know that an education at an elite school is no guarantee of success later in life.  Take a look at some of these Very Bad Ivy League Scandals.

I will close now with these uplifting facts for anyone feeling glum about their educational future:

Uplifting Fact #1:

My idol, George Lucas, who wrote and directed Star Wars, began his educational career at Modesto Junior College (studying anthropology, which makes sense if you consider the Ewoks), and Walt Disney, who won 48 Academy awards and 7 Emmys, went to Metropolitan Junior College in Missouri. Both community colleges! (Source:  Business Insider)

Uplifting Fact #2:

John Grisham went to Northwest Mississippi Community College, then later Cleveland Delta State University before attending Mississippi State, where he studied accounting and then finally attained a law degree. None of this appears to have interfered whatsoever with his becoming the author of A Time To Kill, one of the bestselling suspense novels of all time. (Source: Huffington Post)

Uplifting Fact #3:

Other well known writers who studied everything but writing at non-Ivy League schools include myself (art major, Indiana University) and Barbara Kingsolver (author of The Poisonwood Bible) who studied classical piano and then biology before finally earning a masters degree in Ecology from the University of Arizona.

Uplifting Fact #4:

Sue Monk Kidd got a BS in Nursing from Texas Christian University before getting her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, published when she was 54. 

Uplifting Fact #5:

JK Rowling famously applied to Oxford but was rejected, “only” to go University of Exeter, where she studied French and Classical Literature. (The University of Exeter sounds pretty good to me.)

Uplifting Fact #6: 

Finally, remember: it’s not about where you get your education.  It’s about how hard you study while you’re there, what you do with what you learn, and the kind of person you strive to be after graduation that really matters.

More later.

Much love,

Meg