Ensuring the readiness of each and every boy for the rigors of higher education

Christ School and College

"While setbacks are most certainly a part of life, success is determined by our ability to rebound from them."

Headmaster Paul Krieger

We have just weathered the “Holiday Gauntlet” of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the welcoming of the New Year. One season, however, still looms large for our senior class: college admission. The college process conjures up many visions and images: the tedious application process, leaving home, arranging finances, emotional and academic transitions, campus culture and fit, and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned worry. As a father of three children currently in their mid-20’s, I look back at my parenting with a different perspective. At any given time during their childhoods, I often overestimated the importance of ordinary and normal events. I would find myself falling into the trap of overreacting by throwing up my hands over an insignificant action or decision that my eight-year-old had made. I would lament over what the future might hold for him: “Oh no, now he’ll never be able to get a job…” It was as untrue as it was premature. Having worn both hats, as headmaster and parent, I have been through the college process three times and understand how the experience can cause so much angst. Therefore, I am happy to share some unsolicited advice on “the college search” in hopes of bringing some clarity and balance to anxious parents and nervous students.

The transition to college is a beginning, not an end. Too often, parents and students confuse college placement with a kind of Calvinistic predestination – that life’s trajectory somehow hinges on this. Do not let society’s warped obsession of where a child attends college cloud the vision of your child’s future.

Colleges rarely make egregious errors in the admission process. I didn’t get into Yale when I applied in the fall of 1972 and there was a reason: I wasn’t qualified. I needed something else and I continue to thank their admission office for its decision which has positively altered my life’s direction.

Adolescents bloom at different stages of life, and different individuals flourish in different climates. Find the right fit, then all things are possible. There have been so many times in my life when I have had to rearrange the pages of my life’s script and play a part I had not originally expected, in a theater I hadn’t envisioned. College is one of those arenas. So while setbacks are most certainly a part of life, success is determined by our ability to rebound from them.

College acceptance should not be a game of collecting pelts. Rejection can be disappointing but can also be liberating. Rejection lets you know where you “stack up,” and that is wonderful. It lets you know where the channel markers and limits are. The lesson that needs to be extracted from a college rejection is that it is merely somebody else’s opinion of where they think you are at that point in your life. And ironically, the more selective the college, the more capricious the decision may appear. It does not correlate to where you will be four, 10, or 50 years from now.

Don’t let the college acceptance “define who you are.” Whether you attend an elite university, a community college, take a gap year, go into the military, or go directly to work – let that define who you are and not the bumper sticker on your Jeep Cherokee. There is nothing more boring, sad, and uninspiring than the 55-year old who still defines himself by his alma mater.

In 1965, 53% of the Fortune 100 CEO’s attended an Ivy League school, today only 7% of the current Fortune 500 CEO’s have. What happened? I suspect a realization that one can find a meaningful education in many places for many reasons. It is far more important to graduate from the college that was right for you, to have tried new and meaningful things, joined organizations, and listened to opposing narratives and points of view. Only by doing those things will you grow as a student, person, and citizen.

Christ School is not elitist, and does not judge its boys with an academic yardstick or measure their worthiness by peering through monocles of materialism. So too, is our view of college placement. Christ School is one of the few schools who proudly publishes, both internally and externally, each and every graduating senior alongside the college he has chosen to attend. It is now in vogue among independent schools not to identify graduates with their respective college choices. The reason often given is that it may make seniors who are attending “less competitive” colleges feel diminished. And who exactly decides which school is more or less competitive? How deplorable when high schools, college counselors, and parents succumb to this mentality. Going to college is not just for the privileged, though it most assuredly still remains a privilege: an endeavor that was worked for, earned, and consequently deserved. Our job at Christ School is to ensure the readiness of each and every boy for the rigors of higher education academically, socially, and emotionally. And our job is to help each boy find the right college where that can happen. That is our charge; that is our mandate. So while there are “many ways to skin a cat,” let us all remember that college is merely one of them. Rather than feed our cultural obsession with getting into the most selective institutions – an attitude that distorts reality, hurts kids, and perverts education – let us instead celebrate the best fit for each boy.

Paul M. Krieger