Is Failure the Secret to College Admissions?

In a recent post in Education Week, a dean of admission for Pitzer College ruminates on the benefits of failure in the college admissions race. The author correctly notes that there is no such thing as a “perfect” student, drawing the conclusion that applicants shouldn’t strive for perfection when seeking college admissions. In fact, the author says that he and his peers are often skeptical of students who present themselves as flawless. Instead of encouraging students to present perfection in their applications, he suggests that students should embrace their flaws:

[Admissions officers] get the most excited when we read an application that seems real. It’s so rare to hear stories of defeat and triumph that when we do, we cheer. If their perspectives are of lessons learned or challenges overcome, these applicants tend to jump to the top of the heap at highly selective colleges.

In an admirable effort to protect their children from the consequences of failure, parents too often advise their children to avoid risks. Parents may prevent students from taking classes that they might fail, or engaging in activities they may not excel at, or taking on responsibilities they may not be able to handle, all in the misguided belief that perfection is the only sure route to success.

College admissions officers do not exist in an unrealistic bubble. They are more than aware of the fact that teens are not perfect and, more importantly, that teens are not supposed to be perfect. While admissions officers certainly look for strong students who demonstrate academic commitment and skill, they also look for students who aren’t afraid to take a risk and who are able to cope with challenges, difficulties, and, yes, even failures.

So, while students certainly shouldn’t be encouraged to actively seek failure, they should be encouraged to take risks now and then. A fear of failure can hold students back, keeping them limited to a safe and secure little bubble and cut off from the harshness of reality. The definition of success is not a lack of failure but the ability to learn from failure, a lesson students can benefit from throughout life.

  1. Recep Reply
    This article is a sales pitch, but it's not nreietly inaccurate. Today's world requires a college degree for almost every corporate job, even administrative assistants! This is actually a sad affair because most jobs don't require a college education, even if the job description states so. The leaders of corporate America has been brainwashing by articles like this into thinking that anyone without a degree is an idiot, which is far from the truth. In fact, most recent college grads are still painfully ignorant and naive about the real working world, much more so than their so-called uneducated colleagues who went straight from high school into the working world.The reason there aren't as many opportunities for people without degrees is because colleges and universities have pushed the notion that anyone without a degree is completely not partially but completely ignorant of nearly everything except pushing a broom, and soon I fear even janitors will have to get some sort of BS certification to proove they're qualified to tell caca from doodoo, though I see plenty of both in this article.Proof of how ridiculous the value of a college degree is come from the fact that corporations routinely pass on qualified and seasoned professionals in favor of kids with a degree. Not only that, they'll pass on qualified candidates with years of experience in the field their hiring for in favor of an inexperienced degreed candidate who didn't even major in the same field the job requires! I've met many database developers with degrees in English. (And then the companies wonder why their databases don't work )
    • KH Reply
      I'm not really sure how you got all of that from this article. I don't see what's so wrong with encouraging people to go to college. It is one of my greatest dreams to see my children head off to decent universities and to watch them get their degrees upon graduating. I agree that a college degree doesn't make anyone more intelligent (or even, in many cases, more educated), but the reality of life in this country is that people with college degrees are more likely to be employed and to earn higher salaries. Whether or not that is fair is not an issue that is addressed in this article. Your problem seems to be with the reality of our nation's economy and not with the ideas presented in this post. Clearly you have a chip on your shoulder. If you don't like people who encourage other people to go to college, why on earth are you reading a blog about education? Moreover, while this blog is obviously owned by a private tutoring company, and I therefore expect to see a certain amount of sales pitches in the content, I fail to see a single sales pitch in this particular article. They don't even mention the company's name...

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