An Open Letter to High School Seniors Hearing Back from Colleges

An open letter to high school seniors hearing back from colleges:

I was in your shoes 3 years ago.

Well, I didn’t have the hottest fashion sense and thus wore basketball shoes a lot, but the metaphor still stands - March of 2015 was one of the most anxious time periods of my life.

UChicago sending personalized emails to "FirstName"

UChicago sending personalized emails to "FirstName"

And here are we are again in March once again. First and foremost, congratulations to everyone who got into the college(s) of their choice! But to those of you who didn't - take a deep breath, relax and understand that this isn't the end of anything.

And this isn’t just a “pick me up” story, nor is it me writing this because my brother is a senior in high school.

Here’s my hypothesis: you don’t know what the college of your choice truly is, and to some degree, it doesn’t matter.

I’ll repeat that because it’s important for this to sink in - you don’t actually know which college is the best fit for you, and to some extent, it doesn’t even matter.

If my hypothesis stands, then it leads to an important conclusion - you shouldn’t be devastated about missing the target on “the college of your choice” because there is a high probability that you were looking at the wrong dart-board anyway. 

Not convinced?

Okay, so let’s go through why you think Macalester College is your dream college (I have no personal vendetta against Macalester - I used randomlists.com to find a college name for this article).

  • You love Macalester because your mom and her father before her both attended the school and it’s in your blood
  • Or you love Macalester because it ranked #1 on US News.
  • Or you love Macalester because you’ve seen it’s crazy parties on various social media outlets.
  • Or you love Macalester because every single one of your closest friends is applying to it.
  • Or you love Macalester because your family friend attended it, and now he’s got a great job.
  • Or you love Macalester because visited and you found the campus to be really pretty.

I know some of these reasons really applied to me when I was waiting to hear back from the colleges I added on the CommonApp. And now looking back 3 years later, I realize that I was just a blind man touching the trunk of an elephant, assuming it to be a snake because of the limited data I had in front of me (that’s a reference to an old proverbial tale).

I had no idea what Macalester college was actually like - how could I? I hadn’t actually attended Macalester - the only actual way to learn whether this college was right for me.

I know rejection letters from colleges suck. I usually closed the email when I read “Dear Daksh, Thank you for applying to Macalester. This year we had a huge number of applicants...”

But chances are, Macalester was never a good fit for me anyway.

I know what some of you are thinking at this point - “But aren’t some colleges better than others? But I read that Macalester graduates make more money than anywhere else! Isn’t it better to attend a college with the smallest acceptance rates?”

Yes, and no.

I’ve always thought of every goal as the top-most rung on a ladder.

An open letter to high school seniors.jpg

If one of your goals is to be a world renown architect or a managing director at an investment bank or a highly published biochem researcher - that’s your top rung. The college you get into might place you on the 2nd rung, it might place you on the 4th. What you do after you get in will dictate how fast, and whether you ever climb to the top rung.

College is a new starting point, not a destination.

So visit the college(s) you do get into, and try and collect as many data points as you can. I have friends attending smaller less-famous colleges that have fed into Google. Likewise, I have friends struggling to find “good” jobs from colleges that top the “rankings” year-after-year.

What you need to figure out is what rung college XYZ places you on, for the ladder you’re determined to climb.

Macalester won’t place you on the same rung for every type of ladder. 

You've seen a tiny fraction of the world we live in. You've met a tiny fraction of the world’s population. You know a tiny fraction of the information available to us. No matter where you go - you'll be in a new place, meeting new people, learning new things and opening yourself up to new opportunities.

You don’t know what the college of your choice truly is, and to some degree, it doesn’t matter.