The reason I liked this idea so much is that I’ve noticed how anxious my students – and their families – get just hearing about where their friends and neighbors are applying. And the thing that always strikes me as odd about this is that anyone can apply to any college. There’s no minimum GPA required to apply to Stanford; you just have to be willing to write all those essays. And you don’t have to take calculus in order to apply to MIT; you just have to be willing to fill out their two-part application. And you don’t have to speak French to apply to the Sorbonne; you just have to be willing to move France and take all your classes in French.
Even though families know this, it’s hard to remember in the face of all those conversations at school and at dinner parties and on the sidelines of soccer games. And then students and parents feel pressured to change their lists and add just one Ivy League school even though you’ve done months of thoughtful research to get to that list of schools. Somehow, the raised eyebrow or tone of confusion from your orthodontist or your uncle or your 4th grade soccer coach means more than all the time and energy you know you’ve put into choosing your schools.
Students have all kinds of reasons for choosing the colleges that they apply to: financial, cultural, or just a gut feeling. So while you might assume that the smartest kid in your biology class would apply to Princeton, you might not know that she has a full scholarship waiting for her at Auburn University. And while you might think the star of the track team would run for UCLA, you might not know that he has a dream of sledding down snowy hills on cafeteria trays like they do at East Coast colleges. People have all kinds of reasons for choosing the colleges they apply to, and we have no idea what they are.
So as you start to research schools and visit colleges, trust that you know what’s right for you more than all those other voices. If you want feedback on your prospective list, talk to your parents, your school counselor, or someone like me, people who know you and know which colleges might be a good fit. And feel confident that your list is a positive reflection of your goals and your strengths, even if that’s not obvious to outsiders.