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Research shows very clearly that where you go to college actually matters WAY less than what you DO when you’re at college. Many teenagers who are fixated on highly rejective colleges (and their parents) have a hard time believing this. This white paper from Challenge Success, called A “Fit” Over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity, is, in my opinion, a must-read for college-bound teenagers and their parents.

Key research shows that the selectivity of a college is not a predictor of well-being, student learning, or job satisfaction down the road. The only relationship that researchers have found between financial benefits and attending a selective college is for first generation and underserved students; it makes sense that attending a selective college can change the trajectory of the life of a first generation student who has had limited educational opportunities. But for most students, attending a selective college has really little impact on how far they go in life or how happy they are.

What matters most is how engaged students are wherever they go to college. Being deeply engaged in learning and in the college community is what has lasting effects on students’ well-being. In fact, researchers from a Gallup-Purdue study in 2014 found six key college experiences that have an impact on how fulfilled people are after college:

1. TAKING A CLASS with a professor who makes learning engaging.

2. WORKING WITH PROFESSORS who care about their students’ lives.

3. HAVING A MENTOR who encourages students to follow their goals.

4. WORKING ON A PROJECT across several semesters.

5. PARTICIPATING IN AN INTERNSHIP where students can apply their classroom learning.


Rather than focusing solely on rejective or highly rejective colleges out there (and they’re only getting more and more rejective with each passing year), I urge you to think about colleges where you will have the opportunity to develop relationships with professors, where you will have access to opportunities for research alongside professors, where you’ll have access to internships or co-ops or apprenticeships, where you have to complete some kind of culminating capstone project as a senior, and where you have access to engaging extracurriculars where you will meet and hang out with a community of like-minded people. Frankly, most of the colleges that are termed the “Colleges That Change Lives” have these structures and opportunities in place for all of their students. Go to to learn more about these colleges.

Remember that you will bring your talents and skills to whichever college you attend. Choosing one where you will thrive and be engaged all four years is key and is worth every penny.

I help students and their families navigate the college admissions process. I empower students to figure out who they are and where they belong, and I provide structure, insight, and enthusiasm as we find colleges that are the best fit academically, socially, and financially. Contact me at for a 30 minute complimentary session to learn more!

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