Myths and false rumors about college

A love letter to high schoolers

Dear high schoolers,

I'm getting a bunch of calls from across the country from frantic, panicked parents of discouraged, depressed, frustrated, and/or terrified students. There's a TON of misinformation out there about college--especially what it takes to get in and which colleges are "good enough."

I'm writing this note because I keep hearing stuff that simply isn't true--and it scares you students and MAKES ME MAD! You kids are bright and hard working. I don't want *anyone* to lead you to believe that you're not good enough.

Let me dispel some myths and give you some free advice. This is based on discussions with admissions officers and certification courses I've taken in the process of becoming a college counselor, as well as my personal experiences with my clients and my own kids. Keep reading, and I'll also tell you the 2 things that make the *perfect school*.


1.  "HYPSM [Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford/MIT--pick one] is the only place worth attending."

An Ivy, Stanford, MIT, or Caltech IS ABSOLUTELY NOT the best place for every student! In fact, it's not the best place for MOST students!

Anyone who tells you that <insert name of college here> is the only college worth attending is absolutely wrong. Not only wrong, but REALLY wrong, and the research backs it up.

This is true for *every* major. If someone tells you you need to attend Harvard if you want to be a lawyer or a Supreme Court justice, they're wrong. If someone tells you you need to attend Stanford to be a tech giant, they're wrong.

  • My husband's cousin attended Bob Jones University for undergrad and got into Harvard for grad school and ended up working on Wall Street.

  • Michael Dell went to UT and didn't even finish (not that I'm advocating that).

  • Michael Young, Nobel Laureate in Medicine in 2017, went to UT.

  • Aziz Sancar, Nobel in Chemistry, attended UT Dallas.

  • A bunch more Nobel laureates in science attended non-HYPSM schools as undergrads.

2. "It's worth $100,000 in loans to attend HYPSM."

NO, IT'S NOT! Huge debt is one of the curses that myth #1 places on students. I know parents who are still paying off their student loans while also trying to pay for their kid's college.

Want to start a business? Want a honeymoon? Need a new car? Want to buy a house? Nope. Can't do it. Gotta pay back those loans. Student loans are the one kind of loan that never goes away (other than paying them off), even through bankruptcy.

3. "I / Neil Degrasse Tyson / Aunt Bob attended <insert name of school here> and loved it, so it's the best school."

NO!!! What's right for someone else isn't necessarily right for you.

What's important to you? What's not? Greek life? Sports? Drama? Big campus? Small?

If Aunt Bob's school doesn't have the things you want, then it's not the right school. If Uncle Josephine's school has a strong culture of what you *don't* want, then it's not the right school.

4. "State schools are a waste/only for slackers/pathetic."

Are you kidding me? More CEOs come from state schools than private schools. Of Fortune 100 companies, U Michigan produced 3 CEOs and Texas A&M produced 4. The CEO of Uber came from UCLA, the CEO of Microsoft attended U Wisconsin, the CEO of Alphabet went to U Michigan, Lyft's CEO attended UC Santa Barbara, and the Alphabet president and Google cofounder attended U Maryland. There are a BUNCH more.

Let me give you the 2 things you need to remember:

The *perfect* college is the one that

1. is the best fit

2. allows you to graduate debt free

That's it. Full stop.

PARENTS: Get a grip!

Students are under SO much pressure--much more pressure than we had when we were in high school. Some of today's high achievers are losing their hair, developing tics, or self-medicating with drugs to the point of addiction. Their health suffers drastically because they don’t get enough sleep. Some are killing themselves, literally. Sadly, our homeschooled kids aren’t immune. Our kids--especially the high achievers--think that our high-performing community is the norm. But it’s not.

STUDENTS: Breathe!

Colleges want you. The horror stories of acceptance rates being so low is because the same pool of students is applying to all the same schools, some of them to 20 or 30 schools. You may see stories like this one where one senior was accepted to 149 schools and received over $7.6 million in merit aid. Yeah, I know.

The key is to find the school that's the right fit. (More on that below.)

More things to consider … and a little free advice:

  • HYPSM is NOT the end all and be all. Some students choose not to attend even if they're accepted. There's a lot of baggage that comes with HYPSM. My son was accepted to an Ivy but chose Rice instead. Rice was a better fit, and he didn't want to deal with the "extra" that came with the Ivy.

  • The wrong question to ask is, "What do I need to do to get into HYPSM?"
    The right question is, "What are the schools that best fit my personality and my interests?"

  • Don't be someone you're not. Be yourself and pick the school where you'll thrive. If you pretend to be someone you're not, just to date the hot guy/girl, that relationship will never last and you’ll be miserable the whole time.

  • If you don't get into your top-choice school, you're not a failure. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of fabulous schools.

  • Look around you. If MIT's acceptance rate is 7% and Stanford's is 5%, how many of your friends are getting in? Zero is probably a good guess. Does that make them worthless human beings? Please.

  • There is no ONE right school. It's more about what you do once you're there and less about where you go. Remember, it's not about making the right choice; it's making the choice right.

  • It's all about fit. If you're a novel writer, Iowa might be the best place for you. If you're a marine biologist, Texas A&M might be best. If you're a meteorologist, Oklahoma is probably the place you want to be. If you love learning from the great books, try St. John's College. (Oh, and it’s okay if you don’t want to go into STEM. Really.)

  • Take the US News rankings with a grain of salt. Don't apply to a school just because it's ranked high. Reed College opts out of the US News rankings, but it has one of the highest percentages of graduates going on to grad school.

  • Think of a group of runners divided into two groups: the fastest are in Group A, the slowest in Group B. Would you rather be at the back of Group A or the first in Group B?
    I know of a kid who was a top physics student, highly sought after by colleges. The kid didn't want to attend a school far away from home (Alabama), so he visited a number of schools to get an idea of the best fit. He ended up at U Alabama for a number of reasons: they paid him to attend (!), he was given a mentor and did graduate-level research as an undergrad, and was an author on several papers. He can write his ticket to the graduate school of his dreams.

  • You can get HUGE merit aid if you're willing to set your sights on a non-HYPSM school. Free ride, anyone? Plus, there are TONS of perks that come with big scholarships and honors colleges.
    (Oh, and HYPSM doesn’t give merit aid. They’re not allowed to.)

  • If you think you're going to graduate school, where you go to grad school is more important than undergrad. Think about those two groups of runners again. If your dream grad school is a top-tier school, you'll be a whole lot more attractive as the winner of Group B than the last-place runner of Group A.

I'll leave you with some resources. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be

What Is Fit?

How to Make a College List

Sure, HYPSM is perfect for some people. If it’s not perfect for you, that’s just fine.