The rub about so many practices that have become common in college prep is that much of it doesn’t really help a student prepare for college at all.
All the hand-wringing and grade grubbing at the expense of learning sends students into college classrooms less prepared, not more.
All that prepping for the SAT or ACT? Please. No student in the history of American education has arrived on a college campus more prepared because they spent hours mastering a standardized test that measures only how well you take that particular standardized test.
All the orchestrating, coaching, and crafting of a high school experience based on what a small subset of colleges ostensibly demands leaves kids unable to plot the next step—the one where they set their own direction—once they get to college.
It’s like a decathlete preparing for the Olympic trials by spending four years finding the perfect shoes, winning favor with their coach, and preparing to make a good impression on the Olympic committee. It’s all tangentially related at best. None of it will help that athlete actually run, jump, and throw when it counts.
Wouldn’t it make sense to align the prep of college with the event—and opportunity—of college?
Frank Bruni’s recent New York Times piece, “How to Get the Most out of College,” relates his findings after spending years visiting campuses and talking to both experts and recent graduates. And just about all of his recommendations align with the results of a study by Gallup and Purdue University that Bruni cites in the article. As he writes:
“The study has not found that attending a private college or a highly selective one foretells greater satisfaction. Instead, the game changers include establishing a deep connection with a mentor, taking on a sustained academic project and playing a significant part in a campus organization. What all of these reflect are engagement and commitment, which I’ve come to think of as overlapping muscles that college can and must be used to build. They’re part of an assertive rather than a passive disposition, and they’re key to professional success.”
So what if instead of spending hours tutoring their way to A’s in the subjects where they struggle, kids invested that time into learning even more within the subjects they enjoy?
What if instead of visiting teachers only to ask for extra credit or to complain about a grade, students forged healthy relationships with the teachers they admire? The time a student spends asking his AP US History teacher for book recommendations to feed an interest in the Civil War will go a lot further than the same time spent asking how to get a few extra credit points to move from a B to an A.
What if instead of racing from obligation to obligation, padding a long resume with activities the student hopes will look good to colleges, they spent that time making as much impact as possible in the activities they enjoyed most? You’ll learn a lot more rising through the teenage ranks at your part-time job than you will joining the the club that seems to spend most of its time holding meetings.
The student who spends their time finding their love of learning, earning the interest of mentors, and enjoying the thrill of doing even more for—and getting more out of—things that matter to them will be a lot more prepared to reap the real benefits of college than the student who spent four years executing a strategic plan to impress prestigious universities.
You don’t need to qualify or test in or be elected to participate. Any student, not just those with the best GPAs and test scores, can prep for the real event of college.