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To all the seniors out there: Since you were practically fetuses (feti?), you’ve been drilled on the importance of getting into college. I know I’m not the only one whose parents read Princeton Review’s College Guide to them in the womb! Oh, I am? Okay.

Nonetheless, we all get that college is a REALLY. BIG. DEAL. But guess what? There are way, way, way bigger things than life than college, and sometimes it takes a little reflection to realize it. Ultimately, where you will be accepted isn’t this huge determinant of your value or your future. If you don’t believe me, here are five things that are more important than where you get in.

1. Your Kindness

I don’t know you very well, but I’m guessing you’re a pretty decent gal or guy. You probably smile at strangers, volunteer in your community, feel fond towards old people, tussle with puppies, and tell your mom you love her. If you’re a kind person, I could give a flying squirrel’s butt about where you get your degree. Personality is so much more telling about how well you’ll do in life.

2. Your Work Ethic

There isn’t a single college in the world that will keep you at your job if you don’t perform. Once you’re employed, it all comes down to how you do once you’re there. Are you dependable, persistent, and diligent? If so, awesome. Your career choices will be wide open. If you’re not, it’s time to consider how you can become that “ideal employee.” And good news—it’s totally doable to become a better worker, so get crackin’.

3. Your Family

If life was a math equation, there’d be about twenty bajillion variables and, like, one constant: your relatives. Sure, Uncle Joe is a little kooky, and your little cousins are so hyper that they’re like golden retrievers on speed, but they’ll always be there. You can go to them for support, wisdom (sometimes…), and, obviously, love. I’d rather have my parents, brother, and sister than diplomas from Yale, Harvard, AND Columbia. Boom.

4. Your Reactions to Setbacks

You might be reading this with acceptances from your top three schools matted and framed in your hallway. But even if you’re not facing any disappointments right now, I can absolutely guarantee you that you’ll have to many times in the coming years. That’s not pessimism, that’s realism. If you can keep going even when the universe throws a big pile of yuck at you and then says, “What now, chump?”, then you get all the awards. So if you’re reading this and you don’t have those acceptance letters, now is your time to prove your fortitude.

5. Your Ability to Create Opportunities

One of the reasons society emphasizes where you go so much is because everyone assumes that going to a prestigious college gives you prestigious connections, prestigious opportunities, and a prestigious resume. That’s not an unfair assumption. However, another equally, if not more successful way of getting those things is to be a baller and generate ‘em yourself. Say you want to be a writer. Scour the web, find cool publications to write for (like The Prospect!), and build up a list of published clips. Or apply to as many internships in your given field that you can find—seriously, the more the better. Ask professors in your major if they need assistants to help with their work. Email professionals with jobs you’re interested in and request to job-shadow them. If there’s anyone you, your parents, or your family know who can help you get ahead, shamelessly hit them up. As Mad-Eyed Moody would say, “Constant vigilance!” You should always be on the look-out for ways to become more knowledgeable, experienced, and hireable.

With all of the hype about college nowadays, it may be hard for you to believe there’s much more that matters more. But I’m willing to give you my first-born child if I’m wrong. (And no, unlike my parents, I won’t be reading my first-born Princeton’s Review in the womb.)

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the author

Aja Frost is a college freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which Oprah deemed the Happiest City in America. This suits Aja well, as she has been called "aggressively cheerful" and "someone who thinks the glass is 100% full" on several occasions. Her major? English. Everything else? Undecided. Aja does know, however, that her future profession will involve writing--and lots of it. In addition to the Prospect, she currently writes for her school's newspaper, her school's Her Campus chapter, and three other publications for college women. Besides writing, she LOVES to read. Don't ask her what her favorite books are, because she'll request a couple days and then come back to you with a list five pages long and categorized by genre, best time to read, and coolest characters. Other favorite things in life include oatmeal (it's highly underrated), Anthropologie (overpriced but gorgeous), and gourmet peanut butter (she has fifteen jars and counting.) If you want more weirdness, her Twitter handle is @ajavuu.

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