It is mid-October. The leaves have changed color, the geese are flying south and the temperature is dropping every day. A crisp breeze blows as I walk through the schoolyard at the end of another day, but my mind is far from the beauty around me. Another day of advice about where I should go to college is over, and I am exhausted. After fielding questions and listening to comments from teachers, students, friends, enemies, counselors, parents, casual acquaintances, longtime buddies and a stray cat who happened by, I feel more like a senior citizen than a senior in high school.
For months, I have heard comments ad nauseum about where I must go to college in order to avoid being destitute. I appreciate this guidance, although most of it is unsolicited. Unfortunately, everyone seems to have a different idea as to which school is The School, the paragon of higher education. Combine this with my inability to make a decision about the simplest of matters (ice-cream flavor lists terrorize me) and you have one confused kid.
Not long ago, I thought I had a workable plan for college, but I received advice about why this was absolutely wrong from more people than I care to remember. People who had not spoken to me in years were suddenly full of helpful ideas. I was mauled at the mall, badgered at the ballpark, disturbed at the dentist’s office, and troubled at the theater. I considered asking my minister if it were rude to wear a disguise to church. I wrote down the number for the police protection program in case people decided to picket my house. I now refuse to divulge the address, telephone number, e-mail, or GPS coordinates of my house to anyone unless I am given an oath in blood that I will hear nothing about where I have to go to school.
Despite these protective measures, I am still harried about the dreaded subject every time I set foot outside. I am now torn between home schooling myself, changing my name to Frodo the Hobbit, or moving into the old hermit’s house on top of Mount Poc-O-Moonshine. Somehow, I will win back my right to college choice privacy!
No one should have to go through such misery. College is - or at least is billed as - an exciting step, a thrilling adventure. Regrettably, these academic annoyances have made this step more painful than rock climbing with two broken legs. In order to point these well-meaning pundits in the right direction, I have assembled a list of ten points to consider before cramming college information down every senior’s throat:
1) We have freedom of choice in this country, and despite what many seem to think, this includes college choice. Yes, we also have freedom of speech, which means you can voice your opinions on institutions of higher learning. Don’t be offended if the student you are advising also decides to exercise that right and tells you to shut up and go away.
2) Happy is not spelled I-V-Y. Success is not spelled H-A-R-V-A-R-D. A person wishing to go to a college you have never heard of is not throwing away his or her life. Plenty of important people have gone to Ivy League schools. Plenty of important people have not.
3) Money is important. If a student is considering the financial obligations as part of the decision-making process, he or she should be praised, not ridiculed. You say that $40,000 per year is no problem? Fine, you can pay my tuition.
4) Do not badger, bother, harass, harry, irritate, or otherwise annoy every senior you meet into a mental breakdown. Bedlam Asylum is not the place where any student wants to spend the rest of his or her life.
5) Do not badger, bother, harass, harry, irritate, or otherwise annoy parents of every senior you meet into a mental breakdown. Bedlam Asylum is not the place where they want to spend the rest of their lives, either.
6) Unless a senior is going to attend a college where Slit-Your-Wrist Night is the biggest event, let them follow the advice of Miss Frizzle of “Magic School Bus” fame: “Take Chances! Make Mistakes!” For years, students hear that this is the time in their life to experiment and decide what they want to be. Why is it that seniors never hear this? News flash: students do not progress from age 17 to age 70 in a year. If they want to try something, and it is not going to cause permanent bodily or mental injury, let them try it. Most mistakes can be undone, and many potential mistakes turn out to be great successes.
7) We are not reptiles. We do not throw our children out of the family at birth. Why, then, do people lecture about independence until they are blue in the face? If somebody wants to go to college close to home or even, heaven forbid, in their hometown, it’s okay. If someone wants to go to college faraway, let him or her give it a try.
8) The college you went to was (hopefully) the best fit for you. The college that a senior opts to attend is hopefully the best fit for him or her. That senior is not you. Please do not make that person live your life.
9) Do not make seniors attend every college night scheduled within a 75-mile radius. Remind seniors that “be-a-kid night” is perfectly acceptable, too.
10) On the forced marches masked as “college tours,” do not make seniors feel like every step they take is the most important of their lives. Do not ask every question in the book or broadcast a person’s resume to the uninterested tour guide. Instead, try to make these visits pleasant. An occasional joke to ease the tension is acceptable. Even the most serious schools do not shoot you for humor. Side trips in which you take the senior you are accompanying to a site of interest or out to dinner are appreciated, too. Senior year is still a year in someone’s life. Why not make it enjoyable?
When all is said and done, follow the guidance of President Harry Truman: “The best advice I can give my children is to find out what they want to do and advise them to do it.” That advice never hurt any senior. If people start giving me advice like that, I won’t even have to change my name!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the November 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.