This post was written by Joe Gu, a freshman at UCLA. It was originally published on The Prospect, a college admissions and high school/college lifestyles website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook or Twitter.
Over the last couple of months, many high school seniors found cause for ecstatic celebration as they received a big, fat envelope that included an offer of admission from the post-secondary institution of their dreams. Many others, however, experienced profound disappointment when they checked their mail only to find a kind but firm letter enclosed in a notoriously small envelope instead.
The sad truth of the college application process is that few students are actually admitted to the school of their dreams. Virtually all applicants receive rejection letters and ultimately end up compromising in one way or another when they matriculate. Thus, inevitably, many students each year are left with the "terrifying" prospect of enrolling in one of their "safety schools."
Ah, the dreaded "safety school." The mere mention of it invokes an obnoxiously onerous reaction in most of our peers, not to mention the fact that the term itself has been the subject of much undeserved stigma.
Now I say undeserved because a safety school is a college/university that you will almost certainly be offered admission to because your test scores, class rank and ECs are well above average when compared to the bulk of said school's applicant pool. More importantly, however, a safety school should be a college/university that you are willing to attend (back me up here, Princeton Review). If you had absolutely no intention of ever enrolling into a school, you shouldn't have applied to it in the first place.
That being said, at this point, short of deciding not to go to college at all, what you can and should do is simply make the best of what you've got. It may be a bit of a cliché, but the truth is that college is really what you make of it. The fact of the matter is that most students, rather than attending the school they thought they loved when they began the application process, end up falling in love with the school they ultimately choose to attend.
And if you have a particularly hard time making it work at your safety school, remember that you can always apply to your dream school as a transfer (unless your dream school happens to be a school like Princeton, which has no transfer admission system in place). But keep an open mind to the perspective of others. Chances are, the very institution you're so reluctant to commit to also happens to be someone else's dream school.
On the other hand, if the sole reason you don't want to go to your safety school is because you think that matriculating there will damage your chances of earning a high salary after graduation in a way that attending your dream school won't, think again. While conventional wisdom holds that your more selective dream school's degree packs more punch, various studies have proven otherwise, the most well-publicized of which having been published by Alan Krueger of Princeton University and Stacy Dale of Mathematical Policy Research in 2011. In it, the pair conclude that students who are rejected by highly selective schools ultimately go on to earn the same average earnings as Ivy League graduates.
In an interview with TIME, Krueger asserts that "Students can get a good education at many places. What matters most is what students put into their education -- how seriously they take their studies and how much work they put in. Even if students don't get in, the fact that they are confident enough to apply indicates they are ambitious and hardworking, which are qualities that will help them regardless of where they go to school."
In other words, real-world data shows that it's not the school, but rather the student, that ultimately defines the student and his/her ultimate professional success.
In the end, it's worth keeping in mind that attending your safety school is an opportunity and a privilege, one that 93 percent of the world lacks. It's not, nor is it supposed to be, a punishment. So don't treat it as one. Go out, work hard, have fun, and enjoy college!