College myth No. 1: ‘It’s the school, stupid’

Heidi Huiskamp Collins
Heidi Huiskamp Collins

Both college-bound students and their parents are guilty of believing: future career success and life happiness are dependent on getting into one of the highly-selective schools listed at the top of the annual U.S. News & World Reports list. Guess what? The research bears out that it just isn’t so.

Challenge Success is a nonprofit affiliated with Stanford University’s School of Education and according to its 2018 report, “Why College Engagement Matters More than Selectivity,” students can get a terrific education and forge a wonderful future for themselves at a much larger pool of higher education institutions than what those annually-published lists insinuate.

In 2014, Gallup and Purdue surveyed more than 30,000 college graduates on their job and overall life “happiness” measurements. The researchers were overwhelmingly met with six factors that most directly fed into high scores. An astounding three of six mentioned having a mentor during their undergraduate years. 

Another factor was having an internship which allowed them to transfer what they learned in the classroom to practical work. Plenty of extracurricular activities participation also received a nod. And the last important predictor was completing a long-term project of a semester or more.

Nowhere in the study was college selectivity mentioned and, in fact, it can be argued that “The A-List” might very well fall short of providing your student with the building blocks this study recommends. 

It goes without saying that students admitted into Harvard and Yale are bright, accomplished and motivated. This is the make-up of the whole student body. Your child might be the stand-out in her or his high school graduating class, but they will be one of most at a highly selective school. A little fish in a big pond, it will be that much harder to secure a prominent place in the freshman student body and lay claim to mentors, leadership opportunities and the best grades.

As referenced, having a caring scholastic mentor who challenges and supports your student goes a long way to helping ensure a well-rounded, successful and happy adult alumni. At the “name-brand” schools, those faculty are few and far between. Those institutions often stress publishing over teaching and lead to graduate students handling the heavy lifting of educating undergraduates. Is that what you really want for your son or daughter?

A good “fit” is always more important than a ranking. Ask a lot of questions. What is the ratio of instructors to students in the classes in my child’s major? Who teaches the courses? Are there plentiful internship opportunities for my student? What about extracurricular activities? And, will the course load afford my student the time to participate in extracurriculars?

Widen your pool of options. You’ll be glad you did.

Heidi Huiskamp Collins is the CEO of Huiskamp Collins Educational Planning LLC, Bettendorf. She can be reached at or to learn more visit

Get the free QCBJ email newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the people, companies and issues that impact business in the  Quad Cities area.