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Thoughts on a good life and good colleges

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

This headline from the Harvard Crimson crossed my media feed this week.

I have two immediate responses:

1. Congratulations to the small number of students from around the world who were selected for admission by the Harvard admission office! For those students, I hope it's a great fit that can offer them experiences they will look back on with gratitude.

2. Getting an admission decision is the "best day of your life?" That makes me feel a little sad. I would hope for students receiving admission decisions to be happy, excited, feeling a bit of affirmation at being appreciated for who they are. Even if they are admitted to a "dream" college (an unhelpful idea, imho), I would hope that the admission news lands in the psyche and worldview of a student whose identity, self-confidence, and self-worth are firmly rooted in more substantial personal accomplishments, and their web of personal and family relationships. Students who stand out in Harvard's applicant pool will have no doubt accomplished incredible achievements through hard work and perseverance; I hope for them to find more meaning in those and the person who achieved them than in an admission decision.

I hope the same for the students who are disappointed by college outcomes. I want them to know that admission decisions are fed by innumerable unknowable factors beyond their control, and also to have confidence that their high school academic, extracurricular and personal decisions were and are intrinsically valuable in forming their developing self, if made authentically. College is a place to deepen the explorations made in high school, and to expand into new territory through ideas, experiences, and relationships. There are many colleges that can offer every student what they need to keep growing, and then to move on to the next stage.

Harvard's own 85 year longitudinal happiness study tells us that, more than anything else, "Good relationships lead to health and happiness."

Coincidentally, another item that entered my feed this week was a re-sharing by author Allison Slater Tate of her 2016 piece, "Want your child to get into college and have a good life? Here’s how."

"Want your child to get into college and have a good life? Here’s how." Washington Post

While the admission landscape and the frenzy around it have not exactly calmed down since the movement she describes was founded, the fundamental truths expressed here remain. If students are supported in authentic, self-motivated pursuits, are helped in understanding what is and is not in their control, and approach college as a next step in their ongoing educational life, as opposed to the focal point of their existence, they'll feel more grounded, more confident in themselves and their pathway, and they'll be able to view admission outcomes with a practical sense of how their needs and wants can be supported by the options they have.

There are a few words toward the end of Allison's article that are worth keeping front of mind in high school and when navigating college admission:

Life is longer than the road to college.

Sometimes we can lose that focus along the way. Let's all try to keep that guiding perspective in view as we support teens in their growth, and help them see a little of the longer view of their life and the things that will shape it and give it meaning and a sense of happiness.

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