Dear HS Senior — The Adults Of The World Have Failed You (Sorry!)

College Is NOT The Only Path To Happiness

There's something we didn't fully explain ...

Dear High School Senior,

Over the next few months many of you will find out if you're going to college ... and, if so, what college you'll attend. 

Apparently, quite a few of you believe that this is THE most important moment of your life and the sole decider of your future happiness.

You speak of your 'dream college' ... and the 'devastation' of not getting into that college.

Dear Senior, please let me explain to you that the adults of the world have failed you if you believe this is what defines you. 

How is it that we've led you to believe that there is only one true path to success and that you're a failure if you do not follow this path? 

Was it our constant talking about “living up to your potential” that drilled this into your head? Was it the excessive standardized testing? Was it our incessant push for perfect grades, resume-worthy extracurricular activities, and AP classes that taught you all to believe that "getting into college" is the defining moment of your life?

Here’s the thing — college is wonderful; learning is something all of us should do continually and enthusiastically (long after graduation). 

Yet believing that there is only one valuable type of learning, or only one particular college that can lead to you to true success, sets you up to give up on creating a life of productivity and deep joy at a ridiculously young age. 

You CANNOT be a failure at 18-years old! You CANNOT!

Getting accepted (or not getting accepted) to college isn’t the end of your journey. It’s barely the beginning. Life isn’t a straight path to success and happiness, and the key to both lies not in the college you choose but in so many other variables in your life.

So, I ask you — What is success? What does it really mean to you? 

Ask people you love and respect what success means to them, whether they consider themselves successful, and the path they took to get there. 

Ask all of the happy and successful people you know if they went to college and what college they attended. I bet you'll feel both surprised and impressed to hear that their journeys probably weren't as traditional or "by the book" as you'd think. 

There are so many accomplished people in this world, and only a very small percentage of them attended the top-tier college or university (the ones so many of you feel you MUST attend). 

True success and happiness are not magically waiting on the other end of fancy college degree. 

For some it's found there — yet for most of us, we found it different ways.

Dear Senior, please trust yourself enough to know that any college or learning environment you pursue can lead you to the life you desire. 

College applications, grade point averages, and ACT test scores do not tell your full story.

They don’t tell the story of how you communicate with others, of what lies in your heart, of your feisty spirit, or of your work ethic and motivation. They don’t reflect how you love your younger siblings or how faithfully you help with your aging grandparents. None of those scores or measurements tell the story of you ... only you can do that.

So, please open those acceptance or rejection letters with an attitude of faith — faith in yourself to achieve anything you set your mind to. 

That letter is but a small moment in the grand scheme of your amazing life. 

Open that letter and read it knowing  that you will find your way to success and a beautiful life whether you attend that specific college or not. Life is a marathon ,and college a mere sprint in the longer journey of your achievements. 

One day you will look back at that moment and realize how minimal it was in the big picture of your life.  

Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at  She is also the mother of three including a high school senior. You can reach her via email



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