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As College Deadlines Loom, Seniors Urged to Keep Perspective on Fit Over Selectivity

For many high school seniors, this week is the last big push to complete college applications. Early January deadlines mean it's time to proofread essays, double-check the Common App, and decide where to apply.

Students are inundated with rankings of the "best" schools according to U.S. News & World Report. They are told where to get the best "bang for the buck" by Washington Monthly.

The American Institute for Economic Research reminds young people to consider not just the institution, but the location when picking a college.

But seniors beware: Choosing a cool college town may mean that your parents follow you. An Associated Press story today tells about the ultimate helicopter parents who are relocating to the places where their children attend college.

Despite school counselors trying to steer students away from choosing a school based on rankings, many pin their hopes on the most-selective schools.

Jay Mathews has a good article in The Washington Post today once again lamenting the obsession that many have with elite schools.

He writes that many high school seniors are glum because they recently got bad news from first-choice colleges that their applications under early action or early decision programs were deferred or rejected.

"In many cases, they shunned state universities to apply to private schools that earn high rankings from U.S. News & World Report or other lists, the schools with the highest rejection rates. That is the insanity at the core of our college admissions system: We lust for the schools that are most likely to say no," writes Mathews.

So rather than relaxing over the holiday break, many students are stressing out over assembling the perfect application to get into what they see as the perfect school. School counselors remind students that being admitted to a top-tier school is no golden ticket to success. More important is finding the right fit, being prepared for classes, and making the most of their college experience.

Research shows that earnings are more closely tied to field of study than where students go to school and employers are looking for relevant work experience more than name-brand schools. College selectivity is not linked to higher engagement, a study last month revealed.

So, instead of fretting about where to apply, seniors might be better off spending their time exploring career options and getting relevant job experience. While there might seem like only 100 great colleges, the reality is there are thousands. Once on campus, research suggests students should concentrate on finding their passion and building a résumé that will have employers competing for their talents.

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