Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has written a timely article comparing the current college admissions process to The Hunger Games. Many of us realize that the game has become hypercompetive and driven by rankings. What is sometimes lost in this discussion — and which Ms. Strauss is quick to remind us of — is that the exploratory essence of education is often boiled off in this process. High school is a critical formative time for young people, and turning it into a life and death competition robs them of their own experience.
“Only the most confident and secure students — or perhaps hardened — emerge unscathed, those who despite the pressure and hostile odds, can remain true to their interests, values and sense of self. I have found that the young men and women who thrive in college are those for whom the college search was one of introspection, exploration and personal development rather than a contest. The applicants who focus on fit, program and community as they consider higher education are the individuals who truly find happiness. As parents and educators, we must examine ourselves and what we are doing to the childhood of our kids. Is life so grim, so desperate? Is the future that scary or do we trust that there are many paths to fulfillment, happiness and success?”
I believe that education is important, and the right college or university can definitely make a tremendous difference in a person’s life and career. But the best college is not necessarily one that tops the rankings. Students working in an environment that suits them can outperform arguably superior students who are struggling with finances, culture, or any of the countless other factors that weigh so heavily on the young. For some, this might be a giant state university with a winning football team. For others, the right place could be a private liberal arts school in a tiny town.
If college admissions discussions are in your future. I encourage you to read the article and take the pledge.