“Does it really matter where you go to college?” While I realize the question relates to whether one will be conventionally successful and I politely respond as such when asked. Here’s what I’m really thinking: Your child’s whole external world is changing. Colleges vary radically. To approach college for your child with such a cavalier attitude in order to quell your own anxiety is the height of neglience.
Here’s an example related to one of my close friends. His son was admitted to the Air Force Academy and U-Cal Berkeley. In terms of prestige, the military academies are pretty close to on par with the elite U-Cal Berkeley and, of course, the free tuition balances out whatever edge Berkeley might have in the rankings game. That’s why this example provides a great way to examine the “it doesn’t matter” issue. Does anyone really think that it wouldn’t matter if someone attended a military academy versus free spirited Berkeley? The cultures are so radically different that one’s entire young adulthood – at the very least – would be shaped by the experience.
Part of my work involves calming anxious parents and students about the college process. More than a few parents have noted that our meetings were worth the price of a therapist simply because the family’s collective blood pressure was lowered. In providing a college counseling strategy for our education oriented Connecticut clients, I take pains to illustrate the various ways that students and parents can be happy at the end of the process.
But I also do not mislead parents with silly, feel good, cliches like “it doesn’t matter where you go to college.” It does. Those who tell you otherwise are sometimes desperately but furtively trying to get their kids into top colleges! Those who tell you otherwise to be helpful are trying to tell you (and often themselves if they are a fellow parent) a story to make themselves feel less anxious. That I understand but it doesn’t make the advice any less wrong.