Run Your Own Race– College Admissions

run your own race college admissions

  Last week I ran my first 10K with a friend from college.  I started running last August so completing the 6.2 mile race was an accomplishment. Did I place first?  No.  I wasn’t even in the top half.  In fact, my friend Tamra beat me by almost 30 minutes.  Despite my slow time, the rain for the second half of the race, and the problems I had with my feet, I had a great race. We should treat the college admission process like a running event! My race wasn’t about comparing my results to those of others; it was about achieving something I hadn’t done before. Most of the 10,000+ runners in that race last weekend were in the same situation.  They weren’t trying to outrun everyone else; they were out for fun and fitness, to prove something to themselves, to raise money for a great cause, or to run in honor / memory of someone special. College admission and all the accompanying elements (SAT, ACT, GPA, rank) should be more about achieving a personal best and less about competition.  I know a lot of students (and parents) who feel inferior or stressed-out because they are busy comparing their results to those of everyone else.
  • The strong student who is a terrible test taker feels bad because her SAT and ACT scores are below those of her classmates.
  • The student in the second quarter of his class who feels defeated because he won’t get into the “good colleges”.
  • The student with learning issues who thinks she may never get into college because her test scores and class rank are so much lower than those of her friends.
  • The parents who lie about which colleges their son got into because they don’t want friends, neighbors, or business associates to know he didn’t get into the schools they were visiting last summer.  (YES, parents and students LIE about admissions.  Shocking, but very common.)
College admission is hard enough.  When it becomes a contest to out-score, out-rank, and one-up classmates, neighbors, and friends, no one wins. I wish I could convince more parents and students to run their own race.  Focus on the positive and don’t worry about what everyone else is thinking or doing.

For students:

  • Do your best in every class.
  • Understand that some people may be smarter or learn things faster; that’s ok. There are things you do better than anyone else.  Your goal is to find your strengths.
  • Prepare for the SAT / ACT.  Set reasonable score goals and work toward them.  Don’t expect to get a perfect or near-perfect score.
  • Look for colleges where you will excel.
  • Don’t worry about where your friends or boy / girl friend will go to college.  You will make new friends wherever you go and technology will allow you to keep in touch no mater where you are.
  • Stop focusing on “good colleges.”  All schools have good and bad points.  You can get a good education anywhere if you try.
  • Encourage your friends, but don’t compare their results with yours.  You are different people with different talents, interests, and abilities.

For parents:

  • Recognize your child’s abilities and limitations.  Try to build on strengths and minimize weaknesses.
  • Encourage your child to develop interests and talents. They may find opportunities in academic classes, school clubs, or sports, but you may have to help find outlets for skills that don’t fit nicely into the limited opportunities offered at school. You don’t have to spend a fortune; be creative.
  • Stop comparing. Do your best to see each child as his or her own person and avoid comparisons with siblings, friends, and neighbors.
  • Put down the list of college rankings!
  • Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of a college before. Keep in mind that most people have only heard of the schools within driving distance of their homes or those that play televised sports.   (Who had heard of Mercer University until they advanced to the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament this spring!)
  • Remember every student and every family has struggles.  You may not see the problems in other families, but they have them.  Most people don’t want to talk about failures, so you may only hear their successes.
  • Start talking about the best school for your student and don’t worry about what everyone else will think. (You can always act shocked that your colleague hasn’t heard of this gem of a college your child has found—the one where she will have an average class size of 22!)
Racehorses wear blinders to help them focus and pay attention to the road ahead instead of getting distracted by other horses or the crowd.  A lot of families would be happier with the college admissions process if they could wear blinders. Whether you have a student in middle school who is just developing the ability to study independently, a junior who is getting ready to retake the SAT or ACT, or a senior who is comparing offers of admission, you can emphasize individual achievement and minimize the tendency to compare results with others. You set the tone.  You help guide the process. Run your own race.  Train for it.  Strive to be the best.  Remember everyone who crosses the finish line gets a medal – even if they aren’t in the top 10%!  ]]>


  • This article makes sense. When comparing colleges, how important are Retention Rates and 4 yr graduation rates? As a parent, I care about graduation rates as it my mean students have difficulty getting into classes needed to graduate. However, if students are taking a fifth year to get another major or experience, I don’t see that as a negative. If my student really likes a college whose retention rate and 4 yr grad rate is less than average, what is the best way to find out why the numbers are lower?

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