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My friend’s daughter got in to great colleges DESPITE being told she couldn’t. In January, I posted When Bad Guidance Counselors Happen to Good Kids, which told about my friend’s sweet intelligent college-bound daughter being told late in the game that her focus on the humanities and lack of science and math would prevent her from getting into really good colleges. In fact, she was warned she was over-reaching in the schools to which she had chosen to apply. This threw the kid for a loop and left her and her mom feeling like they’d been punched in the gut.

Well, I am thrilled to report that, despite this being a notoriously tough year for applicants (New York Times: A Great Year for Ivy League Schools), my friend’s daughter applied to 11 schools and got into FIVE – including Brandeis and Barnard – and was wait-listed at three, including Columbia. All this despite her not having perfect 800s on all her aptitude tests and despite her strong focus on the courses she truly loves.

Maybe, just maybe, colleges actually look deeper – beyond the “looks good on paper” crowd who may not enrich the student body and later society as a whole as much as my friend’s daughter. I know my young cousin, who had horrible test scores, got into some highly competitive schools based on her extra-curricular activities and a knock-out application that depicted her dynamic spirit and strong drive better than any test.

So, Mr. and Ms. Guidance Counselors out there…before you open your mouth about things you don’t know…before you terrorize children and their parents with advice based on undifferentiated statistics and fear…remember that these are kids with real feelings and real hopes and dreams. They have a right to pursue things that match who they are – and not just who they are bullied into thinking they must be. We want to prepare happy adults who are following paths they care about rather than hordes of college clones coming out with skills they think they need – and lacking many of the very ones that might help them get ahead in the long run.

Now I am not saying that if a high school student has their eye on a business career, for instance, but hates math that they should avoid those courses. No…they need to do whatever they can to get those skills comfortably under their belts. You need to do everything possible to make sure you have the skills you need to get where you want to go – not that you can be completely sure at this point.

But to all the parents and college-bound teens out there trying to fit themselves into courses and roles that are clearly not even slightly related to who they are or want to be, please know that there is another way. You’ve been fed a load of hogwash for too many years. Do your own research. Make choices that make sense. But this whole atmosphere of fear is not helping anyone.

And if you don’t get into THE school you wanted, it isn’t the end of the world. You never know whom you will meet or what doors will open up from a path less chosen. The guy sitting next to you at some small college in Colorado or Florida may be the next Bill Gates. (Who never even finished college.) An Ivy League degree doesn’t guarantee greatness. You do.

***UPDATE: MORE GOOD NEWS: I just heard about another young person who wants to become an architect. He had low SATs and didn’t take any honor courses or AP courses in high school except for AP art. His family has limited funds and would find an expensive school very hard to handle. He applied to 6 or seven colleges, including Cooper Union, which has a top program in architecture and where “every student receives a FULL tuition scholarship and is not responsible for tuition-related costs.” Unfortunately, only 35 new students are being accepted there this year.

Well…he got in to all but one school and was waiting with fingers crossed (as were his parents) for Cooper Union. Yesterday he got word he was accepted! And once again, we see there is no precise formula for success. I wish him all the luck. Wuhoo!

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