Some students peak in 9th grade, crushing their high school program for the next four years, and acing the SAT’s. Those students often go to the colleges that reward near-perfection in high school. If that’s not you–or if you’re close to that but not quite there–don’t beat yourself up because your friend is going to Duke and you’re not. You may “settle” for the Penn State Honors College, arrive there and realize it’s a hive of great teachers and interesting peers. Next thing you know, your econ prof says your senior thesis is the best she’s read in 20 years and you’re off to Michigan for a PhD. You’ve arrived at your first–of many–peaks in your life. It just happened a few years after your friend at Duke. Twenty years later when you’re a leading expert on Argentine debt, no one will care where you went to college.
This is the ‘long game’, and if you can envision the college selection process as just step one in the ‘long game’, you’re bound to be happy when you start getting a few acceptance letters, no matter where they originate from. Whether you go to Ohio State or Oberlin won’t matter as much as what you do when you get there, because now it’s your turn to crush it and you’re going to a college that will make sure that happens.
To make your college selection process something you’re happy about instead of a soul-crushing plunge into self-doubt, you have to be conscious about your mindset and you need to play the long game. Applying to colleges proper is the short game, a relatively quick one-year of researching and visiting colleges then waiting to see who accepts you and who doesn’t. Our culture obsesses on the short game so it won’t be easy to tune out the fixation on admit rates and endowment-per-student and who gets in where. But you owe it to yourself to make the effort. Your own greatness is years away, but it’s coming. College is just one part of that journey.