College is not a bumper sticker.

By Aaron Greene

College admissions letters are really starting to roll in… and it can be an emotional time for parents and students. Some teens are elated about getting into their dream schools; others are crushed because they didn’t get into the school they had hoped for.

But let’s take a step back from that for a second and let’s just talk about college as what it is and what it isn’t. We’ve been trained to think too much about college as a destination–as in, “I have to arrive at this one particular school or I am not a success and I have not achieved my dream.”

But that’s all wrong, and here’s why.

Let’s say your teen gets into Stanford. Congratulations! But take a step back for a minute. It’s tempting to get excited, thinking about displaying that bumper sticker on your car.

But what if your child doesn’t get in? He or she really wanted to get in–it’s all he or she could envision. Is the dream all over now?

Actually, whether your child did or didn’t get in, he or she is in the same position and should be asking the same questions.

See, either way, you and your teen have to seriously consider if Dream School is actually right for your teen. It’s easy to go and do college visits and they show you these awesome dorms. They show you the great gym that they just recently built, or this new new union or these facilities, or maybe the football team is awesome.

But that’s a distraction to be honest with you. The great dining halls are fine but at the same time that’s not what you’re buying here. You should be buying this university based of what they’re going to be able to do for your student.

College again isn’t the destination. It’s the vehicle to get you where you want to go. And we lose sight of that pretty often when we end up throwing a career plans out the window and we start banking on big name schools for the sake of bragging rights.

You’ve got to ask yourself–what is this school going to offer my student that will lead to his or her most successful career path?  There’s no reason to guess with this stuff. There’s no reason to think that this school is the end all be all because of the name.

I’ve been doing this for darn near 10 years. Every school has different strengths academically. I’ll be honest with you–Harvard is not great at everything. Neither is Stanford, Ohio State, Penn State or any other school. All of them have their different strengths, and your student does too. So we’ve got to really study each school’s strengths, which is what College Liftoff does.

We all want what’s best for our kids. I want what’s best for our kids. But we really can’t lose sight of where the school is actually going to take our children. We can’t lose sight of making good commonsense decisions.

When we’re talking about literally forking over our retirement for one or more kids, we can’t go buying college like we would a can of soup (based on brand and advertising). This is really something that should be thought out from its core–not because the name on the sticker sounds phenomenal. It’s more so about is this school right for my student and what they’re really looking for.

College is more than a bumper sticker. It’s not the destination. The career and the living you make with that career is the destination here.