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Why High School Doesn't Count: Getting Smart About College

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As the wounds of college rejections are still raw from April's thin-or-thick envelope onslaught, all over America, the reality of plan B's are slowly starting to settle in. For many students whose quest for acceptance to top tier colleges was launched by their parents, from enrollment in elite preschools to language immersion programs, the realization that they spent the majority of their youth building a college application leaves a sense of bitter disillusionment at the very system to which they dutifully attempted to master. They might bemoan their fate, tossing out the glossy posters and brochures from the universities that denied them and decry unfairness at the painfully cut-throat process, the barrage of applicants and the limited number of available slots. But the sad truth is that this December, with polished personal essays in hand, a new senior class will repeat the heartbreak and drama all over again. They will hone their academic honors and awards. They will hire SAT Prep tutors. They will dominate as President of the Debate Club and President of the President's Club.

Here's what they don't know: High School doesn't count for everything. And thank god for that.
Hung out in the basement playing video games in high school? Never joined a single club or even took a single honors class? Dropped out all together? Not to worry. Truly. Because it may not matter.

For many people, recalling what actual learning they accomplished in high school is murky. Often, it is the social drama that remains long after the cap and gown are returned and diploma framed. The teen years impacted by sleep deprivation and buzzing hormones may hardly be the optimal time for mature learning. Not having clear goals, not understanding the importance of education and not feeling at ease in obtaining information hurled into forty-five minute periods which begin and end by a bell, high school is certainly not everyone's finest hour.

What goes underreported is that for many students, ownership of education begins in college, and more particularly in community colleges. Luckily, many of the highest ranking universities understand this. Many, realizing the utter transformation that often occurs in the first two-years of college, do not even require high school transcripts from transfer students. It is a fair and well-deserved second chance. The "permanent record" is then vanished and in its place emerges a wonderfully pure tabula rasa.

Last week, one of my students at Ocean County College, a public two-year college, ran up to me with a beaming smile. He was accepted to transfer to an Ivy League university for the fall. A high school dropout, he had spent his early twenties drifting. After making the decision to enter a community college where he could attend locally and afford to pay for classes without incurring gobs of debt, he hit his stride, earning a 4.0 GPA and enjoying the process of learning as an adult. His story, I am proud to say, is far from unique. WIth his acceptance into a top university, he is not only able to have a second chance at success, but is in the enviable position of having garnered the valuable experience of having undergone both failure and success.

It is a way to side-step and steer clear from the modern-day Hunger Games that is the college admissions process.