Busted Myth of the Week: Better People Get into Better Colleges

Barry Lenson

Busted Myth of the Week: Better People Get into Better Colleges

In a week when college acceptance and rejection letters are rolling in, let’s take a look at the common belief that only the best students, and the best people, get into the best colleges.  It really isn’t true.

I could cite many reasons. One is the fact that many successful people didn’t go to college. Another reason is that successful people are going to college in lots of different ways today – earning degrees while they are working, taking online courses while they are in the military, and pursuing other options.

But there’s even more evidence that getting into one of the so-called “top” colleges is not a reflection of the kind person you are, or the kind of person you are going to be. Some of it can be found in Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites, a book by Mitchell L. Stevens. Stevens is a sociologist who spent a year working in the admissions office of an elite college and then reported on what he saw.

During his year of research, Stevens found that elite colleges are actively seeking students who fit into certain distinct categories. They are looking for accomplished students, for good athletes and for students from “minority” groups. But he also writes – and this is worth thinking about – that the “plum” candidates that colleges really want are capable students who come from families that can pay full price.  Stevens saw that such students are in such demand that admissions officers despair when they “lose” them to other institutions.

Interesting, right? And meaningful too. So a college rejection – or an acceptance, for that matter – really has very little to say about the kind of person you are or your potential. Thanks to the birth of online education, some of the smartest people today are skipping the traditional college route entirely and pursuing education in their own way, on their own schedule.

So the bottom line is, you know the kind of person you are, and something that comes in the mail from a college really has very little to do with it.

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