In collegiate memoriam

Today, my college friends and I are gathering on our former campus for a reason that’s anything but celebratory—we’re attending a service to say goodbye to a member of our group. My friend Jim, who I met my last year of college and enjoyed more than 20 years of friendship with, passed away last week at just 44. He was a dear friend. He was a Collegewise fan. And he loyally read my blog every day (he particularly loved those occasions when he earned a mention here).

We played our last collegiate guitar gig together at the UC Irvine Pub on graduation day. We lived together as we started our first post-college jobs. He and the group wished me well when I moved to New York in 1997, and were waiting with a warm welcome when I moved back to start Collegewise. He piled his family in their minivan and drove from California to Seattle to attend my wedding in 2012 as we all convened again to celebrate my nuptials. And the annual reunions our small group still enjoyed were always a highlight of my year. Those reunions may still happen, but they won’t be the same without Jim.

You don’t have to go to college to meet and make lifelong friends. And considering the investment of both time and money, I’d hope that any college student works to extract more from their four years than relationships alone.

But so much of the pressure, anxiety, dejection and general negativity surrounding college admissions comes from a lack of perspective. Your college education is important. It deserves to be treated that way. But basing your worth as a student or a parent on whether a dream school says yes? Sacrificing activities you enjoy, family time, or sanity in the name of SAT prep? And worst of all, treating a denial from a college like a tragedy? These aren’t rational behaviors. There is a lot more to life than whether or not your SAT score cracks 1200, or whether an Ivy League school says yes. And there’s a lot more to be gained from your experience at college than a noteworthy decal to stick on the car.

Jim understood this. He would have reveled in watching his kids go through the college process. He was responsibly thrifty and he wouldn’t have taken on huge debt just so they could snowboard or go to football games. But his first priority would have been to see his kids happy and successful wherever they went. He wouldn’t have cared one whit whether the schools were prestigious. He would have excitedly planned the college tours, celebrated every acceptance, and proudly worn the sweatshirts of whatever schools they decided to attend. He would have turned their passage from high school to college into what it should be—an exciting, positive experience his family could enjoy together.

When their high school years arrive, I’m going to make sure Jim’s boys get the full Collegewise experience. We’ll show them how to approach the process the way Dad would have done it with them.

Wherever you are in the college admissions process, take a minute today to appreciate what’s really important—your family, your friends, and your health. And remember how much you have to look forward to in life, wherever you, or your kids, go to college.