The leaves aren’t turning yet, but with dorm supplies in stores and packed-up cars on the highways, it’s clear that it’s time to go (back to) college. While that should put joy on the faces of many students and parents, at times it raises skepticism and doubt. What happens when students are headed off to a college that wasn’t their top choice – maybe not even their second or third choice?
It happens all the time. The key for a student is turning it into a success story.
I’ve long subscribed to the theory that things work out for the best. But students aren’t as wise as adults, and they need to find this out “on the job.” I recently had a call from the mother of a rising sophomore. Her son, my former student, had been accepted to his first-choice college – all he ever talked about – but was not guaranteed a slot in the academic program he really wanted. In the end, he opted for another school and had a wonderful freshman year in a far more intimate setting. Meanwhile, he’s already been guaranteed a spot in the graduate program of his choice. During my son’s freshman year at his runner-up college, he met President Obama, volunteered to help others with their course assignments, got a top GPA, and explored nearly every inch of a major metropolitan area he otherwise would not have lived in (and he’s a prospective urban planner). This city offered him access to a life-changing internship at 19 which would not have happened at those other colleges. Again, the benefits of going to a “second choice” school are many.
Students and parents should not approach the freshman year as the be all and end all of experiences. That creates far too much pressure than it’s worth. Over time, students realize that they may have fixated on a school more because of reputation or location than actual benefits. Moreover, if a situation does not work out, there are numerous transfer opportunities. The son of a dear friend just transferred after two years at his second-choice school to a college at which he had originally been waitlisted. He is now more mature and enters his junior year fresh off a summer internship. He knows what he wants to study and looks at the transfer as a fresh start. As many his age say, this is an epic win!