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The Urban School
of San Francisco
1563 Page Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
415 626 2919

Next Steps Blog


The Trophy vs. the Real in College Admissions

by Suzanne Schutte, Associate Director of College Counseling

College admissions is inevitably charged with strong emotions. For many parents, it seems like the last chance to set your kids up for success. For students, it can feel like admission to the “right” college is the golden passport to success in life. 

Compounding the stress is the fact that for many families, college is their second biggest financial commitment after buying their home. Too often this anxiety sets up a results oriented approach and displaces thoughtful analysis and meaningful search for the most appropriate learning environment.

The college admissions process becomes – on simple terms – “winning or losing” rather than “how you play the game.”

An Atlantic Magazine article compared the two approaches:

Trophy vs. Real College Admissions
- The real admissions system is creative in finding room for everyone.
- The trophy system is a you vs. me competition for a very limited number of spaces at a handful of colleges.

- The real system emphasizes how many places a student might be happy.
- The trophy system emphasizes how few.

- The real system puts its greatest stress on what the student might do after he or she starts college.
- The trophy system cares only about where he or she gets in.

At Urban, each student learns how to think creatively and critically, to collaborate productively, and to write and speak persuasively. Our alumni regularly return to tell us about all the wonderful work they’re producing in college. The skills they built here served them well at a wide variety of colleges and universities.

It’s become a cliché, but it’s a good one: “It’s not where you go, it’s what you do when you get there.” Try to keep this in mind as you let go of the trophy system and focus on the real system.
Posted by Kristen Bailey on Monday March, 7, 2011 at 03:59PM


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Susan Lee
Co-Director of College Counseling
415 593 9511

Lauren Gersick
Co-Director of College Counseling
415 593 9512

Leslie Schaffer
College Counseling Assistant
415 593 9519

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