The proliferation of college rankings and the myriad of magazine and newspaper articles proclaiming the increasing selectivity of college admissions leads students to believe that "most selective" means the "best." But a college education is not a "one size fits all" purchase; what's right for one student may not be right for another with similar statistics.
Your ultimate success in life is not determined or limited by the college you attend. Select your school not for its reputation, but by how well it fits your requirements. A degree from the most prestigious college will not guarantee you a higher-paying job, more chances for advancement in your career, or success in any way you might define the term. Indeed, studies have shown that students who have been accepted at one of the most prestigious institutions, but choose to attend lesser known schools, attain the same degree of financial success as those who choose the more selective college. In Thomas Sowell's article, "A Prestigious Degree Doesn't Always Equal Success," he points out that "small colleges dominate the list of the 10 institutions with the highest percentage of students going on to receive Ph.D's; a higher percentage of Grinnell College graduates, for example, receive their doctorates than those from Harvard or Yale. Of the CEO's of the 50 largest American corporations surveyed in 2006, only four had Ivy League degrees, and just over half graduated from state colleges, city colleges, or community colleges."
It is not the college that makes the difference but rather the innate attributes of the applicant. Drive, intelligence, work ethic and leadership qualities will later translate to a successful career. In selecting your college, you need to be attuned to those characteristics that you value the most. Look for colleges that help students find their own voices; those at which students are most engaged in the learning process. Try to look beyond the buildings and beauty of the surroundings and focus on the students and professors with whom you will share your time. Find the colleges that support the way you learn best and where the institutional mission and philosophy fits your goals for your own education. If you look first to who you are and understand the person you wish to be, you'll be able to choose wisely and find the college that best fits you.
To illustrate the thematic goal of the article, I've listed some famous people and their alma maters.
Government & Politics: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- Wellesley College; former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice -- University of Denver; Speaker of the House John Boehner -- Xavier University (Ohio); Vice President Joe Biden -- University of Delaware; Ron Paul -- Gettysburg College; President Ronald Reagan -- Eureka College (Illinois); Prince William and Kate Middleton -- University of St Andrews (Scotland).
Business: Steve Jobs -- Reed College (dropped out); Warren Buffett -- University of Nebraska; Gregg Steinhafel (CEO of Target) -- Carroll University (Wisconsin); Alan Mulally (CEO of Ford) -- University of Kansas; Thomas Horton (CEO of American Airlines) -- Baylor University; Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) -- Northern Michigan University; Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) -- Auburn University.
Academia: R. Bowen Loftin (president of Texas A&M University) -- Texas A&M University; Victor Boschini (chancellor of TCU) -- Mount Union College (Ohio); R. Gerald Turner (president of SMU) -- Abilene Christian University; Ms. Drew Gilpin Faust (president of Harvard University) -- Bryn Mawr College; Shirley Tilghman (president of Princeton University) -- Queen's University (Canada).
Music Carrie Underwood -- Northeastern State University (Oklahoma); Garth Brooks -- Oklahoma State University; Gary LeVox (lead singer of Rascal Flatts) -- The Ohio State University; Brad Paisley -- Belmont University; J. Cole -- St. John's University (New York); Jack Johnson -- University of California, Santa Cruz; Kenny Chesney -- East Tennessee State University; Jimmy Buffett -- University of Southern Mississippi.
Entertainment: Julia Roberts -- Georgia Southern University; Oprah -- Tennessee State University; Samuel L. Jackson -- Morehouse College; Arnold Schwarzenegger -- University of Wisconsin, Superior; Steven Spielberg -- California State University, Long Beach; Jennifer Garner -- Denison University; Kourtney Kardashian -- University of Arizona (and attended SMU!); Stephanie Meyer (author of Twilight) -- Brigham Young University; Suzanne Collins (author of Hunger Games) -- Indiana University; Stephen King -- University of Maine; Bill Cosby -- Temple University; Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) -- Rhode Island School of Design.
Sports: Tony Romo -- Eastern Illinois University; Ryan Lochte -- University of Florida; Hope Solo -- University of Washington; Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys owner) -- University of Arkansas.
Ryan Aldrich is the director of College Counseling at The White Mountain School and Certified Educational Planner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.