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October 5, 2003

by Howard Greene and Matthew Greene

We were asked a very interesting question today by a young college reporter writing an article about our Ten Steps to College program. "What is the most important theme in your show and in your books?" We were not sure we had been asked this particular question before, and it provoked some thought. After a pause, our answer was this: "Students should not limit their options." Upon further reflection, this principle seems to sum up nicely our overall approach and encouragement to students and parents as they consider their educational planning. It applies to paying for college, since we advise families not to let cost limit their choices. It applies to creating a balanced and diverse list of colleges, since we encourage families to open their horizons geographically and not rule institutions in or out based on hearsay, reputation, or prestige alone. Our principle covers students who have missed out on immediate college entrance after high school, since we believe it is never too late for anyone to pursue a college education. For those in college, but who have discovered they are in the wrong place, we advise not limiting options for transferring to a different institution. The central point of a college education, we hold, is the expansion of a person's intellectual abilities, perspective on the world, individual communication skills, and, ultimately, his or her options in life. Thus, even in terms of our belief in the importance of higher education, the notion of not limiting one's options suggests that college can be a valuable experience for anyone. As college costs have risen, taking up an ever larger percentage of the average American family's income and assets, many people have become concerned about the viability of earning a college degree. We have made sure to emphasize the amount of aid available to students, in the form of both need- and merit-based awards, loans and grants, to help make college possible, and will continue to do so in the coming year. When asked about which step of our ten was the most important, by this same interviewer, we had to answer, "Determine your strengths". This key, early and continuing process underlies the whole college admissions process, and is the foundation for a student's ability to expand his or her options. An individual must begin to know himself in order to identify appropriate goals — in this case, colleges — and establish the wherewithal to reach them. A student's knowledge of herself will enable her to speak in an interview with more confidence and authority, to write essays and applications with more individuality and enthusiasm, to choose which activities to pursue because they are the ones she is most passionate about, and to select the right colleges based on informed and meaningful experiences on campuses and Web sites. So, for those seniors already in the thick of it, for those juniors just starting to consider life after high school, and even those in college or out on their own, we maintain that you should not, and need not, limit your options. It is never too late to begin to know yourself better, and to achieve the goals you establish.