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March Madness

March Madness, the annual men’s NCAA basketball tournament, tipped-off this week, and it is estimated that 70 million brackets were filled out. From time spent filling out brackets to discussing tournaments with co-workers and watching games during work hours, it is estimated that over the next few weeks about 13.3 billion dollars in workplace productivity will be lost. Madness, indeed.

Even if you don’t have a connection to any of the schools, it’s still easy to get swept up in the excitement as 68 teams are whittled down to a single champion. As the drama unfolds on TV, try to put yourself in the shoes of the players on the court, the coaches on the sidelines or the parents in the stands who are hanging on to every whistle blown and to each made – or missed – shot.

As acceptances and rejections from student applications roll in this month, it might be helpful to think about some of the lessons learned from March Madness. Years and years of hard work and sacrifice are boiled down to a result that is decided in minutes, or sometimes, seconds. A win or loss can be determined by factors beyond both players’ and coaches’ control. Elation from taking the lead, with the clock winding down, is quickly replaced by the devastation from losing it a few seconds later. Just as these players feel this moment could be their most defining one yet, teenagers may feel the same when they receive their college admission decisions. In the moment, what seems like the most important decision of their lives, will one day be looked upon as another piece of life’s puzzle—an important piece, to be sure, but not necessarily a defining one.

That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that attending a prestigious college will not guarantee success or even happiness. The name of the college will not yield the outcome, but hard work and experience will. Therefore, it is important to consider the following factors when narrowing down college options:

Quality of Education: From knowledgeable professors to the opportunity to engage in research as early as freshman year, many students consider the amount of focus that’s placed on undergraduate learning to be the most important factor of consideration.

Overall Cost: The overall affordability of a college must be analyzed carefully, because let’s face it, we are talking about the next four years of tuition, books, meals, etc. Was merit or need-based aid awarded to help contribute to the expenses, and if so, did this make the college affordable? It’s also a good idea to consider graduation rates. It may be in your best interest to attend a college that is slightly more expensive as long as they have high 4-year graduation rates opposed to attending a college with impacted class sizes that could lengthen your time in college.

Location: To stay local or venture on is always a tough factor to consider. Whether you want to stay closer to home or would prefer to branch out of your comfort zone, this is an important factor. What level of support is provided for out-of-state students? Are you ready to tackle this level of independence, or would you prefer to be able to drive home at a moment’s notice? Is there easy access to an airport?

Campus Community: Important areas to consider are the college’s enrollment size, diversity, male vs. female ratio, if it’s an LGBTQ-friendly campus, liberal vs. conservative, school spirit, school-sponsored athletics, competitive atmosphere, Greek life, clubs, student government, and community service opportunities.

Major: Many students select an area of interest on their college applications. It’s wise to research whether or not the college you are considering will provide a program that will keep you challenged and fulfilled. If not admitted into your first-choice major, or accepted into a “pre-major,” how difficult is it to switch or gain admission into your major of choice?

Programming: Does the college you are applying to offer honors programs, internships, learning labs, disability services, and counseling and health care services?

Of course, visiting colleges can be an important part of determining the best fit for students when selecting their final college choice. The Wall Street Journal’s article on “The Right Way to Choose a College” reminds the reader that what students do during college matters much more than where they decide to enroll.

And for the parents, as you watch those acceptances or rejections arrive, it might be helpful to remember the big ups and downs from your own life and take solace in the fact that you’ve done everything you can – and will continue to do everything you can – to put your child in a position to succeed. The rest is up to them.

After all, Shaquille O’Neal’s alma mater never won an NCAA tournament while he played for them, but he went on to be one of the greatest and most successful basketball players of all time. The ball’s in your court!


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