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The ‘Right’ College Is The One You Go To

by Kevin Kelton

I got an 1190 when I took the SAT in the 1970s. And though I went on to become a fairly successful professional writer, my verbal score lagged far below my math score, proving that the SAT’s ability to test “aptitude” was pretty poor in my case.

In the college application world, anything under a 1200 SAT score is considered modest at best, and I ended up getting into Boston University and a few state schools, not the prestigious universities many of my high school classmates got into. Back then B.U. was nowhere near as respected as it is today. But it was still darn expensive, so after my freshmen year I transferred to a somewhat dreary New York state public university to cut my tuition costs. I had adored living in Boston and going to B.U., loved that they had a Division 1 hockey team, and had forged several close friendships I was loathe to abandon. I ended my freshman year devastated that I had to give all that up.

Sounds like a pretty sad story, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. 

Because while I was studying Business Administration on my new upstate NY campus, I met a guy at the top of our dorm tower watching ˆSaturday Night Live” who shared my passion for comedy, and learned he and some fellow comedy nerds were writing and producing a radio sitcom for the school’s AM station. They invited me to join in, and soon I was working regularly at the station as a disc jockey and newscaster, things I had never thought to try before. In my senior year I roomed with that guy I had met watching SNL and we began writing and hosting our own sketch comedy show on the school’s new FM station. 

I graduated SUNY Albany with a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Marketing (areas for which I had little passion), but I chose to pursue a comedy writing career instead. Forty years later it seems I made the right choice, having written and produced several hit TV series – including an Emmy nomination writing for Saturday Night Live, a dream of its ownand building a very substantial nest egg in the process. Plus that roomie who shared my love of comedy is still my best friend. And it all happened at a school I wasn’t the least bit excited to go to.

I didn’t get into the colleges of my choice. But the journey I did take turned out great.

The same is true for my oldest son. He got into a great in-state public school, UC Santa Barbara, but he still pined to go to the University of Wisconsin where his best friend was attending. So my son applied to transfer to WISCO, but the required collateral paperwork didn’t arrive in time, and he had to stay on at SB. So my son dedicated himself to his newfound passion of sportscasting and is now the play-by-play announcer for several UCSB varsity teams. He plans on pursuing broadcasting as a career, and he knows that the opportunities he got to hone his talents at SB might not have been available to him on the Madison campus. 

Instead of getting into the school of his dreams, he turned his existing school into a dream experience.

I also know someone who eked their way into Harvard, was miserable, and quickly bombed out there, then “found” themself at a less-prestigious public university.

Let this be a lesson (albeit anecdotal) to the high school students who are sweating out the college acceptance wait right now, and to the parents who think their kids’ lives will be ruined if they don’t con an elite university into accepting them. It’s okay to have a dream college, but you don’t have to go to it to live a dream life.

Whatever college you attend will most likely turn out to be the right one for you. Because the one you get into and do attend is the one where you’ll make lifelong friendships, meet lovers you will never forget (and maybe one you’ll marry), find new interests that weren’t on your radar before, and have multiple adventures that will enrich you life forever.

Sadly, we have turned the college acceptance process into an end-all, be-all destination instead of what it should be: a single step on the wonderfully unpredictable journey of life.

So to the student running to the mailbox (or your email) every few hours waiting for that acceptance letter that will change your life, slow down and enjoy the excitement of the wait. Whatever school you attend will be the right school for you, I promise. In all likelihood, within months of arriving on campus, you’ll be living a great new life and rarely give those other schools another thought.

And to the parents of high school seniors, stop trying to micromanage the process. Your job is to protect them from harm, not from minor life disappointments. If your daughter or son doesn’t get into Yale or USC, it won’t be the end of their world. But if they think they’re somehow a failure at 18 because they didn’t live up to your unrealistically high standards, it might.

Let your kids try. Let them fall short. Let them learn to accept adversity and persevere. Those are the lessons that will propel them to success, whatever the name of the school on their diplomas. 

And once they graduate, let them pursue careers in comedy writing or sportscasting or ballet if that is their calling. Love them for who they are, not who you’ve always wanted them to be. Parenting is not about gaming the system to their advantage. It’s about teaching them to excel and be happy with who they are.

Chances are, they’ll turn out just fine. Even with a state school education.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and runs the Facebook political group, Open Fire Politics.