The Only College Decision Criteria Malcolm Gladwell Thinks Matters

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The other morning I began my day with a one hour and forty-five minute podcast. I did not plan to immerse myself into almost two hours worth of wisdom before 10 a.m., but a particular episode excited me enough to invest the time to listen. I grabbed my journal, a hot cup of coffee and my sound-blocking headphones for some quality time with me, myself, The Tim Ferriss Show and Malcolm Gladwell.

In the literal sense the episode's title, Dissecting the Success of Malcolm Gladwellsounded like a carefully executed operation with intent to uncover the sources of Gladwell's success. This "operation" was rather a carefully executed interview between Ferriss -- author of The 4-Hour Workweek – and Malcolm Gladwell. For those of you living in a bubble, Gladwell is a journalist, speaker and bestselling author. (All five of his books were on The New York Times Best Seller list.) His work is often in the areas of sociology, psychology and social psychology.

Given Gladwell's extensive writing portfolio and global recognition, I felt like I already knew him -- or his public figure, rather. Not long into the interview, I discovered how little I really knew about Gladwell as a person and how he got to where he is today, which is why this episode was such a treat -- he was sharing his authentic stories instead of me reading about him in the media.

Gladwell spoke about a plethora of stories -- ones about his family, his love of running, his writings and that he eats as little as possible in the mornings. There was one topic in particular he spoke about when his speech quickened, his tone strengthened and his passions boiled -- when he was talking about college.

I never knew Gladwell felt so strongly about the American college system -- so strongly that he said the "American college system should start over." He also called BS on advice about "working hard" to "get into the 'best' college you can." He chuckled at this statement because society's sources for what college is "best" are derived from US News and World Report. Gladwell's view on society's ridiculous criteria on which we base our college decisions is a topic that really resonated with me.

I strongly believe that anyone can experience the "best" college because the college experience is what you make of it. Even the top-rated academic institutions in the world cannot promise to deliver a college experience in your best interest. Instead of buying into the belief that if you go to this school you will be successful, we should think twice about why we believe that school is the best for us. Gladwell believes the only criteria students should base their college decision on is if you will beinterestedand inspired.Ask yourself:

Is this a place where I will find myself late at night having deeply interesting conversations with people I like and find interesting?

Will I be so inspired by what I learn during the day that I will want to talk about it at 1 a.m. in the morning with people who will challenge me?

Only you can answer these questions.

I absolutely agree with Gladwell that what should matter to society is what happens when a student attends that school. Students need to create the experience for themselves using the support, tools and resources the school provides -- and not rely on the school for a great college experience to just happen. "Experience can be created in every institution," Gladwell said. "It's in our snobbery that interestingness is defined by test scores. It's an outrageous lie."

As a University of Kentucky graduate, I am aware that my college degree did not come from an Ivy League or "top-ranked" school. However, I am also aware that my college degree was 100% what I made of it. I didn't have to attend what someone else viewed as a "best college" to be inspired to graduate with honors, to publish a book my senior year or to meet global influencers, bestselling authors and industry game-changers. All of that was my own doing. No one should feel defined or constricted by a school, but rather feel interested and inspired within.

The importance of creating your own experiences also applies to changes and transitions well beyond the college decision. Remember that you have the ability to author life and to define what it means for youto be the "best."

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