What teenagers can learn from a forty year old

I turned 40 last weekend.  And in what had to be one of the best nights of my life, I got to celebrate with pretty much every person who's important to me.  Seeing all those great friends, taking stock of my life at 40 and how it's shaped up, reminded me of something every high school student applying to college should know because I think you'll have a similar experience 20+ years from now at your fortieth birthday party.

Just about everything great in my life, from my friends, to my partner, to my career, can somehow be traced back to college.  And none of it could have been predicted before then.

Some of the people at the party were friends I made in college and have known for 20 years.  Others I met during my time working at The Princeton Review after graduating, a full-time job I never would have gotten had I not started working there part time as an SAT teacher my junior year of college.  And not surprisingly, others came from the work we've done together during the last 11 years since I started Collegewise, an 11 years that never would have happened without my experience at The Princeton Review and the mentor I found there who believed in me and told me I could do this.  

My life would be completely, unrecognizably different had I gone to college someplace other than UC Irvine.  But I had absolutely no idea that any of this was going to happen when I signed my Statement of Intent to Register back in April of 1989.    

All the work you're doing to get into college is incredibly important.  The world rewards people who have high expectations for their lives and are willing to work to meet those expectations. 

But someday, you're going to turn 40.  And how your life looks then will have just about nothing to do with your SAT scores or whether or not your dream college said yes.  Your life will be defined but what you do once you get to college and what you keep doing once you leave.  It's going to be defined by the people you meet and whether or not you treat them right.  It's going to be defined by what you learn about yourself when you discover what you're good at (and what you're not-so-good at).  It's going to be defined by your ambition, how hard you work, and whether or not you have the guts to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to you.

The day a college says Yes or No is just one day.  It's the next 8,000 days that will determine the life you have at 40 and the people who are in it.