Changing the Way We Think About College

What is it we value most about post-secondary education? For some it is the prestige of going to a top-ranked school, for others it is four years of immense personal growth, and across the board it is understood as a means to attain more opportunities and preparation for an increasingly challenging job market. The value is made clear to us—the high school graduates– day after day, month after month, by parents, relatives, teachers, and admissions officers, until post secondary education feels increasingly like a perfunctory expectation rather than a valuable opportunity. This isn’t how it should be! We should feel excited about our choices and expectant of our futures— as if admissions officers are Santa, and acceptance letters are Christmas.
At the beginning of my search, I was so completely overwhelmed with the enormity of the task in front of me, that I relied heavily on the suggestions and help of my parents and relatives. Give me the names of colleges, I would say, sign me up on mailing lists, anything—just give me answers to this problem. And that is truly how I viewed college, as a not so-desirable prize after a long quest of essays, interviews, and standardized tests. Early on I set a precedent that this outside advice on one the biggest decisions of my life was wanted and welcome. Needless to say, I received too much help, which only seemed to inflate my problems.

A rainy day at Colby

A rainy day at Colby

It was hard acknowledging to myself that my college search was a process that I needed take more initiative in. I couldn’t just tag along for the ride, I had to be in the driver’s seat. After this realization, I was in the difficult position of trying to tell my parent’s that their continued advice and input was actually a hinderance to my process, and that I was ready to be more present and accountable in my own decision making. I was able to find the words to express an appreciation for their support, while also making it clear that I was ready to take leadership of this process in such a way that their support wouldn’t be needed to the extent that it was being given. It was only after this, that I felt the tremendous weight of college lift ever so slightly from my shoulders.

On a recent trip to Bates College

On a recent trip to Bates College

All high school students in the process of a college search should attempt a similar conversation to the one that I had with my parents. Tell them that their support is valued, but that ultimately college is your decision. Dispel your trepidation, and banish your anxiety. Become engaged in a process that is as exciting as it is chaotic— and embrace the chaos. Although college uproots you, challenges you, and takes you miles from your comfort zone, it also fosters your growth, educates your spirit, and introduces you to opportunities you cannot fathom now. Take care, and be courageous in your decisions. Revel in the knowledge that this is your future. This is the beginning of your one wild and adventurous life.

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