It’s been a few years since I really cleaned up my website, and in doing so now, I thought I should write and publish at least one, if pretty short, blog piece.
In my editing and updating of my biography, I noticed that part of my description included a reference to my experience in guiding students to their “dream school.” And I cringed.
“Dream school” has come to be one of those phrases that I find deeply problematic. Cringe-worthy. Think about literally what is being said when one references a “dream school.” It’s simply a school that one dreams about. And what is a dream? Keeping it simple (i.e. without getting into the fun, deep philosophical or psychological stuff), dreams are not real. And this simple definition is exceedingly applicable to dream schools. They are not real.
To isolate a single school as a “dream school” is to put on a pedestal one institution in a way that inherently is a dishonest (*cough* not real) oversimplification of that school, and an equally dishonest (*cough* not real) oversimplification of all other schools.
A great college list might include a favorite school, but will also include several schools that supersede that favorite school in one or more ways, as will always be the case in any comparison between schools. A great college list will also include one or more of the other, equally problematic and cringeworthy college list phrases, the “safe schools.” Deconstructing that term is for another post, but a great college list will include schools of multiple admission difficulty levels, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM should be a school that the student would love to attend. That love is constructed not via a “dream,” but via a sophisticated understanding of the academic and social cultures and opportunities that define a school, the result of thoughtful, extensive exploration into what really happens on campus at each of these institutions. And honestly, when one has such a sophisticated understanding of schools, a “dream school” can no longer exist. Instead, one will have a list of “awesome schools that I love and would be thrilled to attend.”