The Unknown (College)

The folks at The Chronicle of the Horse recently sent around a survey to discern their readers’ favorite horse products and brands in advance of publishing their readers’ choice issue later this summer. Participants were invited to pick their favorite brands and products and even share why they did so – basically a popularity contest for a lot of equine supplies, from tack to apparel to shampoos and clippers.

Having initial conversations with high school sophomores and juniors about potential colleges is a lot like that survey, I find – which is to say that, in the early going, it’s basically a popularity contest when I have students start naming schools.

Harvard. Stanford. Texas A&M. Duke.

The names of the most famous (and infamous!) colleges roll off students’ (and parents’!) tongues with ease, so ingrained in our collective college-going consciousness are they. After all, television heroine Rory Gilmore went to Yale and Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – who wouldn’t want to follow in their (fictional) footsteps?!

But we live here in the real world, a world where this past enrollment cycle Yale only accepted 6.27% of their applicants (there were nearly 33,000 of them) and MIT accepted just 7% of its just over 20,000 applicants.

For the average student and the average parent (of average financial means), then, the list needs to be rather drastically amended – which usually winds up in a conversation that goes something like this:

“Let’s talk about the programs at XYZ College.”
“I’ve never heard of XYZ College.”
“That’s why we’re going to talk about it – I think it could be a great fit for your interests and personality.”
But no one’s ever heard of that school – what will happen to me if I go to a school no one has ever heard of?!”

Well, student (and parents), the short answer is this: Great things.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until my dying day: You get out of college what you put into college. No matter if you’re at Princeton or your local community college, the outcome (e.g. your ultimate education) isn’t driven by the strength of the football program, the Gothic quaintness of the campus architecture, the fancy bumper sticker on your family’s minivan, or the look of admiring recognition that comes over people’s faces when you tell them the name of your chosen college or university. The outcome is instead driven by how many times you go to class (spoiler alert: don’t miss class), the number of hours you spend doing your homework and actually learning the material, the ways you involve yourself in campus organizations and the social scene, and the opportunities and experiences you actively seek out and participate in when they come your way.

And you know what else? You could still wind up famous.

After all, some pretty well-known, brilliant, talented, wealthy people went to some schools that you’ve probably never heard of (or perhaps you recognize but look down on for whatever reason) and their lives turned out just fine. For example:

Are you a Hamilton fan? Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda is an alumnus of Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut).

Famed zoologist and conservationist Jack Hanna and astronaut John Glenn both went to Muskingum University (New Concord, Ohio).

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan went to Macalester College (St. Paul, Minnesota).

Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs was a graduate of Reed College (Portland, Oregon).

Entourage and Mr. Selfridge actor Jeremy Piven has a degree from Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa) while Cheers and True Detective star Woody Harrelson attended nearby Hanover College (Hanover, Indiana).

And Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett (net worth: $73.3 billion) is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, while Dallas Mavericks owner (and business personality) Mark Cuban got his degree from Indiana University Bloomington.

Not a Harvard, Princeton, or UVA grad in the mix – not that the alumni of those much-revered schools are unsuccessful, but that isn’t the point here. (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg didn’t become famous because he went to Harvard, after all – he became famous after he dropped out.)

The point is this: There are good reasons to pick a college (appropriate academic programs, campus culture, financial aid packages, etc.) and then there are some less great ones – like its name recognition, for instance, or…

(Want to talk about some great colleges you’ve never heard of? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide your search.)



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