04/16/2014 04:26 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

Recovering From College

Well, not really. I'm still a senior in high school, but I have finally gotten off the roller coaster of applying to college that I boarded as an apprehensive, but ambitious, junior. And like getting off an amusement park ride, I feel a mixture of relief, catharsis and dizziness. In the past two years, I have spent hours on self-reflection and have written and re-written countless essays about myself. If nothing else, I can say with certainty that I am much better acquainted with myself than I was before. But having finished this process, I find that I have more questions than answers. The biggest one being: Is the point of high school to get into a good college?

Many people would say yes. My parents definitely would. If you believe that each person should strive to be a contributing member of society (as most people do), then getting in to a highly ranked university would, theoretically, be good preparation. That's why high school students overload with APs, sign up for extracurriculars and seek out leadership positions -- partly because they enjoy it, but partly because they believe it will eventually "pay off."

But I find this answer problematic, if only because it implies that success is intricately connected to the college you attend. This is the belief that has students deciding to attend a college based on prestige rather than fit. It's also why, when the small envelope (or in 2014, the disappointing email) comes, a bright 18-year-old with potential and drive will panic and cry and wonder what she did wrong.

From personal experience, I haven't found a strong correlation between success and alma mater. True, a handful of colleges enjoy the advantages of a name brand, new facilities, 50 Nobel laureate professors and so on. But what good are such benefits if you yourself are not ambitious, hard-working and intellectually curious? How can you rely on what Forbes says is the best university in America to create a rewarding and successful career? Indeed, the common denominator among the most successful of us is not where they went -- it's what they did and who they were.

So if the point of high school is not to get into a highly selective university, then what is it? For me, the point was to come of age, and ironically, it happened when I was rejected from Stanford University. In the moments after receiving the decision, I felt grief -- it was my first encounter with a situation I could not control. Before, I had always felt that if I did all the right things, I could get what I wanted. But the experience made me learn many things: the value of resilience, the satisfaction of hard work in and of itself and the importance of making long-term goals so that short term setbacks do not frustrate you. These are qualities that you can't test for on the SAT or convey in a 300-word essay, but they will ensure success no matter what college logo is on the back of your graduation cap.