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The College Conversation: Why will you go to college?

October 23, 2010|By Lisa McLaughlin

What is the true purpose of going to college? This question will ultimately drive how parents navigate the college selection and admission process with their child.

On the one hand, there are parents who believe that only the most selective colleges have the best professors, thus the best academic departments, ultimately providing their child with the best degree to get the best job and have the best life.

They believe competing with the best and brightest students will get the attention of recruiters and graduate schools, who will be knocking down their child's door upon graduation. And that will lead their child to the best first job out of college, at the best company, which will ultimately determine their child's best career path for the rest of his or her life. To these parents, the purpose of college is to set their children up for lifelong professional success at the age of 17. To this group, success in life is directly tied to the selectivity of a college. For them, college is a means to a financial end.

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With these parents, I know right at the onset, the college selection and admissions process will be far more stressful for everyone involved. The stakes are high — if their child doesn't get in to the "best" college, they feel like their child's success in life is severely diminished. And their self worth as a parent is often directly tied to this, as well.

If my child doesn't get in to so and so school, I failed.

On the other hand, there are parents whose greatest hope is that their child finds an institution where he or she will grow more than ever imagined. They want their son or daughter to question every notion and value in which he or she has been raised and earn an appreciation for what he's had and where he's been. They aspire to have their child's perspectives broadened, their horizons expanded. It's important to these parents that their child sees himself as part of a larger world and finds his place in it.

Their children are encouraged to test boundaries, experience freedom away from home with the least amount of responsibility, and identify what's important to them, apart from the world of work and their parents. College is just the beginning and ideally instills intellectual curiosity and a desire to be part of the greater good. The true test of their parenting skills is tied to how well a student survives in college — not when the day their child gets his or her acceptance letter.

It's time to clarify what you feel is the purpose of college. And more importantly, your child needs to grapple with this question in order to find the right colleges that meet his or her needs. Allowing yourself to be open to at least some of the philosophies of the latter mindset will ultimately alleviate unnecessary stress as you navigate the college admissions process.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs on Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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