Are you trying to write a compelling application to a target school and feel like you’re coming up short? It could be time to go back over the two critical questions (Why this path? Why this school?) and reassess whether the fit is really good after all.
It’s not that applying to school shouldn’t take time, effort, and even a bit of frustration. Telling a high-quality, cohesive story about your motivations for attending school is no easy task. Yet, most effort should be spent in crafting the story–not figuring out how to justify it to yourself. If you are stuck behind a story that rings untrue, or illogical, it’s better to figure out now (not a year and tens of thousands of dollars from now) whether you’re really on the right track.
So, what bad reasons compel people to apply to certain schools? For young people, parents often drive misfit targets. In some cases, parents choose schools to which they are themselves vicariously attracted; in others, they choose schools that satisfy their own insecurities and fears (e.g., finances, proximity to home, safety/security) without appropriate regard for the quality of the experience for their child.
Adults can also choose schools for the wrong reasons. The decision to attend a certain school or certain type of school is often driven by a desire to command a higher salary, reach a new seniority level at work, or achieve a different station in life. Adults may feel more pressure to attend a program that will yield tangible benefits, as they are often responsible for their own education costs, and must interrupt other life obligations to attend school.
Regardless of your own situation, the important action is to test whether what you have set out to do truly aligns with your goals. The more honest you are with yourself, the clearer it will become as to whether your reasons for pursuing a certain path are good, bad, or questionable.
Though abandoning a path or target school may be disappointing in the short-term, this honest self-reflection is to be commended. Just ask the thousands of individuals who are still paying off student loans for degrees that, as it turned out, they didn’t really want, to schools they didn’t really like.
If you don’t have at least two or three unique reasons that you can be proud of to answer both questions, you are probably on the wrong track.