Encouraging A Healthy, Balanced Approach To Choosing A University

Is it possible to have a healthy, balanced approach to the university admission process?

Dr. Denise Pope posed this question at the workshop for Crescent School parents on January 7, 2020. Pope is a Senior Lecturer at Stanford University Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success, an organization that helps schools and families create a more balanced and academically fulfilling life for their children.

The university admission process is one of the largest sources of stress for students, according to the findings of Challenge Success surveys of more than 100,000 high school students in the U.S. and Canada. Pope said a perception that only top-ranked, highly selective schools are worth attending is one of the factors in that stress. But research by Challenge Success found that rankings of universities, such as the annual “best colleges” lists published by U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review, are not accurate indicators of a school’s quality or student outcomes.

In fact, Pope said, the research shows no relationship between a school’s selectivity and its graduates’ learning, job satisfaction or general well-being. The factor that does make a difference is the students’ level of engagement. The Challenge Success research found that students who have opportunities such as internships, community participation, mentorships and multi-semester projects are more likely to thrive after graduation.

“It’s what you do in university, not where you go, that matters,” Pope said.

For a healthier, more balanced approach to university admissions, Pope advised parents to help their children choose the post-secondary option that is the best fit for their interests and circumstances. Challenge Success recommends these strategies:
  • Help your child define success for themselves
  • Examine subtle messages (choose words carefully to avoid voicing your bias)
  • Protect “PDF” (play time, down time and family time)
  • Support the full slate of “readiness” (life skills, positive coping skills and social-emotional skills in addition to academic skills)
  • Look beyond known brands and prestige
  • Follow your child’s lead
“We’re here to lower the stress level of university admissions and focus on the things that really matter in life,” said Pope. “You’re going to be fine. They’re going to be fine.”

Gina Kay, Executive Director of Crescent Student Services, says the Challenge Success research is consistent with Crescent’s approach to university admissions.

“We embrace the ‘best fit’ philosophy and Crescent’s Guidance & University Counselling department works closely with Upper School students and their families to help them explore career choices and find the best match with post-secondary institutions worldwide,” says Kay. “We encourage our boys to consider all opportunities and to not limit their options, because there is something for everyone.”

[Shown in photo, left to right: Crescent School Headmaster Michael Fellin, Dr. Denise Pope and Crescent School Deputy Headmaster & Head of Upper School Nick Kovacs]

Learn more about Guidance & University Counselling at Crescent

Read the Challenge Success white paper on college admissions