Prestige v/s Best-fit- How to Choose your Ideal University?

[Intended for: International students and parents who rely excessively on college rankings in their search for colleges in the U.S.]

Last week, a proud parent posted an article on the Parents of MIT Students Facebook page. What is there not to be proud about? I pondered. MIT ranked 2nd among the world’s most prestigious institutions by U.S. News.

“Bummer!” whined the beaming parent in a Facebook post, “the school up the street (Harvard) took it away again this year, but hey MIT is still second!”

Boy, was I delighted that MIT had ranked higher than schools like Berkeley (3rd), and Stanford (4th) that my MIT sophomore son had turned down a couple years before! Besides, my daughter was getting ready to join MIT as a freshman! My own Alma Mater had fared pretty well too: UCLA- 8th! Go Bruins!!

“What a bunch of high achievers we are!” I proudly internalized, appropriating the honor bestowed upon these institutions, as if it were my own.

No later than a week after, one of my student-client, now Amherst Class of 2020, invited me to like the Facebook page Fresh U.

Just when I was about to click the Ignore button, I changed my mind, and decided to peep in.

Boy, was this page ever so delightful! The engaging articles written by clearly talented, and insightful Freshmen world-wide, were so uplifting that I avidly devoured them, really glad that I had checked the page out!

Three or four articles down, I came across the title “Why I Rejected MIT.” I had to look at it again, and again, and again, to believe my eyes. How in the world, could somebody, anybody, in their right mind, reject MIT? But this young girl did!

Instinctively, I began hypothesizing reasons for this rejection: cost? But she said her parents urged her to accept MIT! Impostor syndrome? Yes, that’s it! It had to be it! She chickened!

As I was about to settle on my conclusion, a tiny little voice at the back of my head began nagging me: “don’t you always advise your students to favor best-fit over ranking? So…?”

I decided to read the article again- objectively this time.

Boy, was I impressed with this young girl’s courage to say no to prestige, to top-tier ranking, to a school that she decided did not match her personality, nor her expectations, despite the grandiose effort of MIT admission to lure admitted students- some of the world’s brightest minds- to make them feel welcome. So what, if she chose University of Texas at Austin over MIT? Albeit an atypical choice, in such a situation, the point of the matter is that she had found her right fit and owned it dignifiedly!

In the mad race of college admission, students, educators, and counselors alike, often fall prey to college image. And when it comes to foreign-born parents like me, who are conditioned to value ranking over everything else, no matter what the mind says, the heart dictates: Ranking First!

In this mind-heart game, the heart invariably wins. But is that really—winning!?

If we took the time to scrutinize the criteria underlying those oh-so-prized rankings, we would know that these do not guarantee success in college; right-fit is much more likely to set students up for an enriching experience that leads to overall success! 

If a student’s best match is a top-tier school- great! Otherwise, striving to find the right-fit school, among the 3500+ accredited US colleges and universities – some albeit unknown but of great caliber regardless- is the way to go!

Sources and Useful Links:

Anjanita MahadooStudyUSA