Of course, we want our children well-adjusted and better prepared to succeed–to an unhealthy extent for some. The recent, stunning college admissions scandal proves that.

It’s a scandal that hits too close to home.

My daughter has as her number one dream school the University of Southern California, the center of the “mommy and daddy bribe junior’s way in” debacle. I felt frustrated for my daughter having to hear about the charade. I felt the “that’s so unfair” flash of anger. And while I know it’s not about some flaw in that particular university but about a few unscrupulous individuals using their resourcefulness for evil, it still didn’t make me feel any better.

And despite all that emotion, I can still at least understand how intense the sentiment of wanting the best for your child can be, even if in this case the idea has been grossly distorted. 

I believe our collective obsession with college rankings at least partially fueled the wayward parents’ utter lack of integrity. 

It turns out the obsession may be unwarranted. I wonder if the likes of Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin (two celebrities caught in the scandal) would have taken pause on their nefarious plans had they come across the same study that I did–a fascinating October 2018 study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study shatters the belief that college rankings, and by default, the eliteness of the school the child selects, end up influencing whether or not the child is successful in school and later in life.


But those rankings I’ve been trained to fawn over–and all that goes into them, flawed?


The study cites several issues with the rankings, starting with the use of methodologies that change from year to year and that focus on easily obtainable but often imprecise and arbitrary numbers.

U.S. News & World Report school rankings offer an example. Half of those rankings are based on previous/projected graduation rates and reputation. But the study found graduation rates correlate with individual circumstances (like family income), not the academic institution itself.

Reputation scores (quality of teachers) are misleading because those that give the scores (high school counselors/college administrators) don’t track progress of each teacher in each school from year to year, so the assigned-rankings become self-fulfilling prophecies.

And despite conventional wisdom, top-tier schools don’t lead to better income for undergraduates. (Although that’s the case at the graduate level and for first-generation and low-income minority undergrads)

Look, I’ve been caught up in the ranking thing a bit as well, having been trained to bow at the altar of the collegiate numerical sorting hat. I obsessed about getting into a top ten graduate school and admittedly now still find the worry over what film school my daughter will get into hard to shake.

But knowing about this study and reflecting on my own life experiences, I’m thinking differently about this whole top-tier thing these days. Here’s why–read this quote direct from the research/researchers, beseeching me to consider something far more important for my daughter:

Research tells us that the most successful students, both in college and beyond, are the ones who engage in the undergraduate experience regardless of how selective a school may be. This is almost always the case whether a student attends the top-ranked or 200th-ranked college.

It turns out engagement really matters at work, and at college.

The study showed that the extent to which your child throws him/herself into the college experience has a far greater impact on their learning, well-being, job/career satisfaction, and future income than whether or not they went to Self-Esteem U.

The difference making behaviors include forming strong relationships with professors, mentors, and fellow students, getting involved in the community, participating in internships to apply what they’ve learned and in general taking advantage of all the resources at the college, falling in love with the process of learning, and letting study habits be the foundation for workplace preparation.

Your child determines his/her destiny, not their school.

Again, I know, you’ve got to step back on all of this because the idea that top-tier schools equals a top-tier life is so ingrained. For those who already have kids at/on their way to elite schools, that’s truly terrific. I’m just not going to stress about it as much anymore.

Here’s my plan.

My daughter is still interested in top ranking schools (we’re approaching application time), so my wife and I are still 100 percent behind her. But we’re going to keep an eye on more practical things like does the placement office have a good track record for getting kids jobs in the field that will make them happy.

More importantly, darn-tooting we’re upping our narrative about the importance of the approach to college versus just the address.

Originally published on Inc.

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