"If I just get into the XYZ College or ABC University, my life will be great." Ever heard this or felt this way? Underneath this statement lurks the thought process that “If I don’t get into XYZ, life will be bad.” Fear has always been one of the most powerful motivating forces: Think “fight or flight” when a large predator provided the motivation to not become dinner. When you stop to consider it, you know that the fear of not getting into one of the top universities in the world isn’t the same thing as being chased by a lion, tiger or bear, but our brains do not. When that fear is with you constantly, the stress is unhealthy.
Stress can be a positive motivator and moderate level of it will work in the short term. I remember being quite motivated to meet deadlines for papers; a little bit of adrenalin helped to keep me awake until it was done. But there’s a ton of research explaining the negative long-term consequences of a constant stressful state such as insomnia and a lowering of cognitive ability. (1)
The strange thing is that attending XYZ college is not at all a precursor to a “great life”. The reality is that there are almost 10 000 Colleges and Universities worldwide and gaining acceptance to the top 10 (you know the ones!) is an achievement closer to becoming an Olympic athlete than a well-rounded student. In fact, even when it comes to future financial earnings, studies show that there is little difference between universities (1). That’s not to say that future success is measured by $, but for some people that’s what matters. Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website.
What about you?
- An interesting experiment: Take 10 minutes and imagine yourself five or ten years from now. In a perfect world, what is your life like? What are you doing? How are you spending your time? Who are the people in your life? Write it down. Be as specific as possible.
- Once you’ve finished, give some thought to what you can do today to help make that happen? What kind of College/University/Other experience would help?
It bears repeating: Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website. Next time you meet with your school’s college and career advisor, be sure to talk to them about what type of school will help you to best reach your goals. Rather than the best name, what type of school is your best fit?