College Myth: I Want to Go to the Most Selective College that Will Accept Me

It’s easy to convince yourself as a college applicant that the most important characteristic of a college is its selectivity or prestige. No matter how envious your friends may be if you’re accepted to a selective college, it doesn’t mean you’ll ultimately be happy there.

Here are some of the some of the problems with judging colleges only by selectivity.

Selective doesn’t mean “good” (necessarily)

Photograph of a man's hand giving a thumbs up, considering something is good. However, selective doesn't always mean good

Thumbs up photo via Flickr.

When someone says a college is “good”, it can mean that the college has well-respected faculty. It can mean the research done at the college is published in esteemed journals. It can mean the graduates of the college have particularly bright futures–or one of a million other measures of quality.

The point is that while there are a lot of ways to compare colleges, how difficult it is to get in–taken alone–is not a meaningful metric.

Is it true that many selective colleges are made to be selective because they have positive characteristics? Yes, of course.

But they are not the only “good” colleges worth considering.

You can limit yourself by judging colleges solely on selectivity

There are thousands of colleges out there. And if you only pay attention to the most selective schools, you miss out on the majority. Selectivity doesn’t tell you anything about how well a college fits you.

Many colleges have similar academic profiles and may be a good academic fit for you, yet they may not be as selective as other colleges. Cornell and Northeastern are a good example:

Comparison showing that Cornell University and Northeastern University have similar academic profiles but much different selective or admissions rate

Here are some things that ARE worth weighing when choosing a college:

  • Campus size
  • Programs offered
  • Location (Geography)
  • Setting (Urban, rural, etc)
  • Cost & financial aid
  • Academic profile
  • Overall culture or “Feel”

Choose a college based on your preferences in regard to these factors, and you’re much more likely to pick one that fits.

You may find that the colleges which fit you happen to be more selective. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just keep in mind that the allure and challenge of selectivity shouldn’t be the only factor in considering where you’ll apply, or where you’ll ultimately enroll.

Focus only on selectivity can mean you risk picking a college that doesn’t fit

It’s easy to get hung up on a school because of its name. You may feel that people will judge you based on your college decision.

But what other people think about your college decision only matters for a little while. Picking a college that fits you can impact the rest of your life. Listen to yourself–only you know which college is the right one.

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