I vividly remember the look of disappointment on my former vice president’s face when I ran into him about five years after I’d last seen him. Our sons were the same age, and he asked me how mine was doing and I asked him the same question. I probably had a similar disappointed face because my son wasn’t in college, but his disappointment was because his son was in a small lesser-known college (in my hometown actually). He wanted his son at a prestigious university and was hurt that his son was not.
I don’t know if the son didn’t go to a, in his father’s words, “better school,” because he didn’t qualify or simply because he chose the school he thought was best for him.
I have lots of thoughts about the scenario I just described, and I have lots of thoughts about the recent college admissions scandal. I’m a former college student, I’m a college professor, I speak in colleges and high schools, AND I am the parent of a college-aged son so I get it from lots of viewpoints.
Here a two things I know for sure-
- If you don’t qualify to get into a school then you probably won’t qualify to stay unless you work your butt off or someone plans to continue to pay off people for you. In many cases, it’s likely the student hasn’t learned the necessary life lessons or have the work ethic it would take to sustain the privilege of being in the school or program.
- It’s not about where you go to school but about what you do wherever you are. I recently read the article Dear parents: It doesn’t matter where your kid goes to college that completely aligned with my thoughts and experiences at the University of Memphis- a great school but probably wasn’t on those parents’ list.
I don’t know the motives of the parents who paid people to get their kids into the schools beyond saying their kid was in a particular school. For most parents (and students) the desired outcome is an educational experience that prepares you for a successful career and life.
These are the five actions a student should take that can guarantee (as much as you can guarantee anything) success no matter what school you attend:
- Do your work and do your best. Whether you’re at an Ivy League school or a community college, you have to do the work. Going to class is the first step, and the classes (at all schools) are taught by professors with a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer you. The second step is doing what’s asked of you (your homework) and doing it to the best of your ability. That’s where the learning really comes, and where there a gaps which will exist at all schools, get additional information from the multitude of other sources.
- Build and maintain relationships. Every college campus is made of people, and it is people from lots of places and experiences who can teach you something or connect you to someone or some opportunity. Be deliberate about meeting people and maintaining those relationships through college and your entire life. Relationships that I made in college provided me with job opportunities, support in my entrepreneurial efforts, babysitting services, life-long friendships, and so much more.
- Look for opportunities to get involved. Whether you are a member of a sorority, chairperson for the student activities council, or mentor for the law society, there is a place for you to get involved at your school- and even be a leader. Doing this 1) gets you exposure to new people and opportunities 2) teaches you new skills 3) builds your confidence 4) helps you enjoy the college experience more 5) did I say EXPOSURE and OPPORTUNITIES?
- Secure internships. Going to college, any college, is only part of the learning experience. If your ultimate goal is to have a career, then you need practical work experience and a place to apply what you are learning in school. As early as your freshman year, look for internship opportunities. Don’t limit your search to big corporations either. Some of your best learning can come from working with small businesses and entrepreneurs (that’s what my interns tell me anyway). Some of my greatest connections came from my college internship, and some of my greatest learning came from my first job at the Memphis Grizzlies (although an NBA franchise, was a small business) where I felt like an intern who did a little bit of everything.
- Focus on learning yourself. No matter where you are, your college years are your time to really truly begin to learn yourself and grow into a mature, independent adult. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll change your mind. You’ll have failures. But if you listen to advice and learn from those mistake, you’ll see success in your career and in your life.
And not because of the school you attend.