I recently read a post on Quora where a student (it wasn’t clear whether or not he/she was an athlete but it’s still relevant) got accepted to Stanford and Dartmouth, but was afraid of not being able to keep up with classmates since both places are known to be some of the best academic institutions in the country. This insightful response got the most upvotes.
Let’s explore this thought process through different perspectives.
This may not be standard practice, but certain college advisors or recruiting consultants try to get a good reputation by saying that a large percentage of their students get into their top choice school. However, it’s important to remember that there are two main ways to get into your top choice school as a student.
The first way would be to raise your level academically and athletically in order to get accepted by these selective schools. Of course, this takes years. You can’t go into senior year realizing that you’ve been lazy for three years and hope to reach your potential top choice school if it’s a very selective school. Intuitively, this makes sense. Are you really going to win an NCAA title by going through the motions for three years and then deciding to work hard in the last year? Absolutely not. It may be a different story if you’re a truly gifted athlete, but why would you want to roll the genetic dice like that? Assuming you’re on a college wrestling team, you already care more about wrestling than a majority of the population. If you care that much, why would you leave it to chance? As you can see, this is the proper way to get into your top choice school. Set high standards and work your tail off to reach your goals. However, college advisors or recruiting consultants don’t have control over this, so they may look at the second option. So, what’s the other option to get into a top choice school?
You may have guessed it- lower your expectations. “What’s that, Jonny Wrestling? You wanna wrestle at this school? Ha! In your dreams. Let’s go through this list of schools you actually have a chance of getting in.” The issue here is that Jonny Wrestling actually had a shot of getting in that school, but the college advisor or recruiting consultant wanted to look good for his or her business by lowering Jonny’s expectations. This is absurd. It’s the equivalent of a wrestling club telling their wrestlers not to go for state championships so that the club owner can tell parents that 90% of their wrestlers meet their high school wrestling goals. If a kid wants to go for a state title, let them. If a kid wants to apply to a really selective school, then let them at least try.
If you’re reading this as a college advisor or recruiting consultant, then let me give it to you straight- cut the crap. You’re a scum bag for even considering this option, and you need to stop this right now. Are you seriously lowering that kid’s potential and talking them out of a high quality education just so you can look good for your business? Screw that. Getting a college education and a degree from a great academic institution will open many doors and lead to tons of opportunities for students, and lowering their expectations just so you can look good is basically taking advantage of a teenager’s future for the benefit of your business. Find a better indicator of success for your advising or consulting business or get out. Parents, be wary of this. If you so much as get the impression that they see your son or daughter as a dollar sign or statistic on their brochure or annual report, then proceed with caution or find someone else altogether.
The hardest part of a tough academic institution like an Ivy League school is getting admitted. You may certainly face your own challenges after that, but you can expect the college to be much more helpful in your endeavors after you get accepted. Why is this the case? Let’s take a look at it from their point of view. In particular, we’re going to be looking at acceptance rates and retention rates to gain a better understanding.
The lower a school’s acceptance rates, the better and more selective they look. It’s a way or saying, “A lot of people want to come to our school, but we only take in the best of the best.” Fair enough. That’s one way to build a school’s reputation, and this makes sense. The better quality a school is, the more people will know about it, and the more people will apply to it. Colleges can only let so many people in every year, which leads to a lower acceptance rate. It follows that lower acceptance rates are correlated to high quality schools. Of course, that’s not the only indicator of a college’s success.
High retention rates show a college’s ability to keep students at school (as opposed to transferring schools or dropping out). If retention rates are low, that could mean that the college is doing a poor job supporting their students or failing to create an environment in which students can succeed and be happy. Since students aren’t doing well enough or simply aren’t happy (and it can happen for various reasons), they’ll likely transfer. In some cases, students will even drop out, thinking that college isn’t for them.
In short, you want to see low acceptance rates and high retention rates in a top choice school. Of course, you also want to see standardized testing scores and a GPA within your range. There are also some intangibles that go into the decision (how do you quantify a spectacular essay and/or recommendation letter?), so you might as well try.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Any good wrestler will go to competitive tournaments to get exposed to the best competition. They’ll go to practices at the better clubs in the area where they know they’ll be pushed. You aren’t doing yourself any favors by ducking the competition. You know what you need to do to be the best that you can be.
Look at academics the same way, and remember the original purpose of going to college in the first place: a degree and an education along with the opportunity to wrestle for four years. Even if you’re on a full scholarship, someone else (a parent, an institution, etc.) is paying for your four or five years of college. Would you ever pay $50,000+ per year just to wrestle? You may as well get your money’s worth and get an education while you’re there too.
Apply to those places. Challenge yourself so that you can push yourself to be the best that you can be. Assuming that those colleges or universities are a good fit for you, enroll in those places. Academics matter.
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