Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Where You Go to College Does Matter—For a Different Reason

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Your students can stop worrying about college—sort of.

A recent Gallup poll of college graduates show that a high number of them are engaged in
work and thriving in at least one part of their personal lives.  Their positive reports tend to be higher than those for Americans as a whole; more important, there is no difference in the percentage of good news based on the kind of college the student attended.

That last point is worth repeating.  Among college graduates, the level of content is the same for students who went to public colleges, and students who went to private colleges.  It is also the same for students who went to ranked colleges, and students who went to unranked colleges.

If these statements sound familiar, they should. School counselors have been telling students and parents this for years.  The only way to choose a college that’s best for a particular student is to consider the student’s interests, abilities, and needs, and match them to a college that provides a student the right mix of opportunity, challenge, and support. We’ve said this before there were college rankings; we’ve said it before there were test prep colleges and five-figure independent college counselors; we’ve said it before college anxiety became the malady everyone loved to fear. Know who you are; know what you can do; know what you’d like to do, and you’re likely to make a great college match.

Now that the Gallup poll has told us we’ve been right all along, we have nothing to fear, right? In two words—no, and no.

First, it’s important to note that the survey was conducted among college graduates.  This means we have no idea about the lifelong engagement or happiness of the many, many students who started college and didn’t finish.  It’s time to study this group; if we discover that made their college choice using a different approach than the completers, we can tailor our counseling techniques to make sure choices are based on factors that increase the chance of completion—which could increase the chance of happiness. Stay tuned.

Second—and this is really important—we need to be ready to deal with the comments of the media and others who look at these results and say “So, the study is telling us it doesn’t matter where you go to college, right?”

Think of it this way.  What do you think would happen if a student walked into your office, and you told them what college they’d go to—no research, no college visits, no conversations? Would they actually apply to that college—and if they did, would they love it as much, or put as much of themselves into the experience? Most likely not—largely because this kind of college choice is pretty random.

Students pick colleges for all kinds of reasons, and some of them aren’t resonating with iron-clad logic—but none of them are random. Whether it’s a multi-factor spreadsheet, the quality of the football team, or an intuitive feeling that it’s the right place for them, students put a little of themselves in the college selection process.  That makes the choice more real to them, and commitment is a key component of a choice.  The Gallup poll isn’t telling us that commitment is irrelevant; it’s telling us that once you make that commitment, you’re likely to have a happy life, wherever that commitment takes you.   

1 comment:

  1. Patrick, your observation that there needs to be analysis of the non-completer college students is brilliant. Do you think there's anyone working on that at this moment?
    I agree it would greatly inform our counseling processes for the better.