April 4, 2014
It’s that time of year, when high-school seniors cross their fingers on college applications and/or actually choose the location for the next step of their education.
It’s a time-honored process that can result in joy or heartbreak.
But getting accepted into a college — at least the major colleges — often gives the applicant a good look at what it will be like a few years down the road when they start applying for work. Not all endeavors end the way we hope.
For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has reportedly attracted a record number of high-school students hoping to be part of its next freshman class with 31,321 applicants. Only a small fraction will be accepted.
And right now many young men and women who didn’t get in where they fervently longed to are worrying that it’s some grim harbinger of their future, some sweeping judgment of their worth.
This is for them. And it’s intended less as a balm for the rejected than as a reality check for a society gone nuts over the whole overheated process.
There are a myriad of reasons a high-school senior may not be accepted at any given college. The list is longer than a life-long criminal’s rap sheet. And some of those reasons may be as subjective as whether a biography includes volunteer work or the type of electives taken in school.
However, corner offices in this country teem with CEOs who didn’t do their undergraduate work in the Ivy League. Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin went to the University of Alabama. John Mackey of Whole Foods studied at the University of Texas, never finishing.
And your diploma will have infinitely less relevance to your fulfillment than so much else: the wisdom with which you choose your romantic partners; your interactions with the community you inhabit; your generosity toward the family that you inherited or the family that you’ve made.
If you’re not bound for the school of your dreams, you’re probably bound for a school that doesn’t conform as tidily to your fantasies or promise to be as instantly snug a fit.
Good. College should be a crucible. It’s about departure, not continuity: about turning a page and becoming a new person, not letting the ink dry on who, at 17 or 18, you already are. The disruption of your best-laid plans serves that. It’s less a setback than a springboard.