The world is changing fast. Many of the occupations our current students will be pursuing ten years from now haven't been invented yet. What this means is that their future success depends far less on specific knowledge and institutional credentials than it does on skills, creativity, and flexibility. The world is also shrinking: almost every facet of life brings us into contact with people, cultures, institutions and businesses in all corners of the earth. What this means is that of all the skill sets a student can acquire, none is more important that communication skills. The very concept of "communication" means more than it used to as well, encompassing not only expressive and receptive language, but also analytical skills, interpersonal skills, and an exploding array of technological connections and new media. So, if college is preparation for success in life after college, we must accept that college is preparation for a world which will make demands on our children that we cannot know or predict in the present. This could be daunting, but it can be liberating as well. If we embrace this reality, picking a college can be about what it should be about, namely, understanding the specific gifts and interests of an individual student, and planting them carefully in the ground where they will flourish most abundantly.
The majority of colleges in the United States-- more than 90%-- are not particularly selective. Many of these are terrific schools, at the likes of which some TFS graduates are thriving even now. Applicants to any school that admits some and denies others, however, must understand one important truth: admission to selective colleges is not a meritocracy. Selective colleges admit students with varying characteristics and backgrounds in an attempt to create the most intellectually dynamic community that they can. Of course this means they are looking for high achievers of all kinds, but it also means that whether, or where, any given student is admitted or denied is not in any meaningful sense a measure of their ability or their potential.