I flew to England last week to attend my brother-in-law’s graduation from Oxford, where he and 300 other overachievers from around the world earned their MBAs. Not surprisingly, the people I met were an impressive collection of varied successes. I met a 23-year-old Rhodes Scholar who was already earning his second master’s at Oxford. I met a woman who’d spent the last year in Rwanda working to stop some of the worst forms of child labor. I met a business owner whose company installs solar farms all over Europe, several students who left behind lucrative careers in investment banking and venture capital, and budding entrepreneurs who’d secured multiple post-graduation pitch meetings with potential investors.
I certainly didn’t meet anywhere near all 300 of the graduates. But of the dozen or so that I did get to chat with, only one attended a college that would likely be described by most of my readers as prestigious—UCLA. The rest went to schools that included Occidental, Northeastern, Emory, Arizona State, and multiple international colleges I’d never heard of.
And while each of them when asked (as I have a tendency to do) spoke fondly of their college years, not one of them credited their college with their success. For each, college was an important, memorable four-year period on a continuous path of work, learning, growth, successes, and yes, failures. College is an important chapter of their story, not the entire story.
It’s easy for high school students and their parents to get so immersed in the quest to get into college that they lose perspective on the relative importance of what will eventually be a student’s adult life. Given the time, money, and energy you’ll have to spend to get in and to succeed once you’re in college, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t treat the process with respect. But nobody’s future was ever made or broken with one piece of good or bad admissions news from your dream school. According to the class profile, the average student in this Oxford graduating class had been out of college for only five years. Yet most spoke of their undergraduate years like ancient, albeit wonderful, history.
College will be an important chapter in your life. But no matter where you go, the rest of your story can be a page-turner if you want it to be. One chapter doesn’t make or break the entire book.