Matches Made in Cyberspace


As we begin another round of college admissions, I have started to think about college choice as academic online dating. 

Consider this: participants virtually explore profiles, decide if there is something between them, an indescribable affinity, that makes them want to spend significant time together. Do they want to take the risk of meeting in person? Both require a willingness for both parties to invest resources- time, talent and treasure, to become more than superficial acquaintances. It requires that they get to know each other, over time, in a variety of situations, to see if the elements most personally essential will be available in this relationship. At best, it is a courtship, not an elopement.

When I work with students (and parents), I hear desperation as they struggle with their presentation. They focus on “selling” themselves to institutions, endlessly polishng resumes and creating activity lists that make Bill Gates look like a slacker. Schools, for their part, fill mailboxes and inboxes of potential applicants with shiny, sunny photographic essays, reflecting resort-like environments. They laud the accomplishments of faculty and alumni. They boast dozens, if not hundreds, of clubs, sports at every level, and student faculty ratios that imply personal attention to all your learning needs.

Let’s take a step back for a second. Yes, in order to attend a school, one needs to be admitted. But one also needs to say, “Yes, thank you. I’d like to attend. I am willing to hand over boatloads of money and four years of my life. This is a place I see as one where I can grow, flourish, learn, expand my horizons and my visions. This is where I choose to be…”

College choice means mutuality. It is a pairing, voluntary and agreed upon by both parties. That means that, contrary to experiences in gym class, being chosen does not obligate you to join that team. Choosing to apply does not bind a school to accept you, nor does it require you to attend.

Putting one’s best foot forward requires effort. If you’re looking for relationship, you want to make the best impression. But let’s be real: if you aren’t comfortable in formal attire, your dates shouldn’t be at galas. If you are happiest when a roomful of people is dancing, you aren’t the perfect partner for someone who prefers quiet solitude. If your exercise regime is focused on turning the pages of a book, all the fitness facilities in the world don’t make a perfect match. Instead, make sure the library has windows and comfy chairs. A school may have luxury dorms, but if you are planning to spend more time in the lab than the lounge, be sure they offer enough access and space for your interests. If your free time has always been spent backstage, working on student productions, what matters in a good match for you is the theater facilities, not necessarily the list of recent concert performers.

In the end, choice involves BOTH sides of the equation. A school wants to be chosen as much as the student does. The application process is a courtship for everyone concerned. A successful college application process means that there is a reciprocal enthusiasm to enter into a meaningful relationship.