College Advice: Is a Choice School Always the Best Choice?

By Qin Sun Stubis
(originally published in the Santa Monica Star)

ching bioChoice has very much become part of our birthright these days, from what we eat, wear, and do, to where we live, receive our educations, and work. In some ways, the more affluent and ambitious we are, the more choices we tend to face in life.

Having multiple choices is not always a wonderful thing. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by them; at other times we don’t know which is the right one for us. Furthermore, knowing that a particular decision has life-long consequences can trigger an awful lot of stress. For many, their first taste of such a dilemma coincides with their last year of high school.

Every April, high school seniors sit on a pile of college acceptances and rejections, brooding over their final choice of a school for the fall. When applications to their dream schools end up in the rejection pile, college decisions can be difficult, even painful. Sometimes students let purely practical matters determine their fate: How far a school is, how much scholarship is offered…when dreams become burst bubbles, nothing seems to matter that much anymore.

The reality is that the harder our teens set their hearts on one or two “top” schools, the narrower their path to college will become. In a way, they are not really giving themselves choices, but limiting them. They fall in love with schools without knowing if the schools will be in love with them. When they cannot reach their unlikely goals and have what they think they love, they’re hit as hard as if they’ve lost all their hopes and dreams. Life, barely begun, is now in a ditch.

There are almost 4000 colleges and universities in the United States. Each exists to help students to obtain knowledge and sharpen skills. Each offers professors and different tools for learning. Colleges are not only good or bad, but right or wrong, depending on who you are. Harvard is not for everyone, and the reputation of a school shouldn’t be the only reason to make a choice.

Remember the feeling when you sat in front of a multiple choice test? Sometimes all the options seemed to be right, while at other times they all looked wrong. And, the more you stared at them, the more confused you became. Luckily, the consequence of making the wrong choice was just a matter of a few points on one of many of life’s little exams.

Picking a college isn’t a multiple choice test with only one right answer. Help your kids match their interests and strengths with the college that suits them best. Make sure they talk to their teachers and counselors, and take them to tour the campuses before they make that big decision. They need to make sure that their choices are not just names, but places they know and want to go. Tell them to remember that all their college choices, not just their dream schools, can be paths to a successful future.

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