Beginning earlier each year high schoolers from around the nation buy books, access google, and call their friends in hopes of finding their “dream” college. They sift through data, looking to decipher the importance of attributes such as campus diversity, size, and academic rigor. Beginning with a pool of around 4,200 options they narrow and narrow with a new found tenacity that some parents hardly new existed before this moment in their young person’s life.
While in many ways this surge in adolescent-sleuth-like behavior is indeed admiring (and astonishing), it is also troubling. Many young people are feeling the pressure to begin preparing for college or their career as early as middle school. Gone are the days of swimming in the lake at summer camp, as they are replaced with intensive internships, volunteering, and building of the pre-pre-college resume.
But the truth of this situation is much more detrimental than it seems. On the surface it makes sense that young people should be interning, volunteering, and preparing themselves for the rigors of postsecondary learning. After all, their futures depend on a college degree and what better time to start than now. The ruth remains, however, that all of this college preparation has overshadowed students’ preparation of themselves. In place of adventuresome summers of self-exploration and fun commitments to extracurricular clubs and teams, we have put unnecessarily intensive, high-stress activities that do not allow students to figure out who they are. And, while using technology can indeed narrow down the search to a manageable list of prospective college options, our young people becoming more certain about school, and less certain about themselves.
So, as you prepare for your intensive college search, here a few things to help guide you in the earliest stages; both for students and for parents…
Tip #1- Begin your search with two questions: (1) Who am I? No really: who ARE you? Not the simple “I am me…” answer. Dig deep and fish around for some answers. What are the ideas and things that make up your identity? Colleges want authentic, confident young people who have a sense of self. This is a good question to start with. (2) What do I care about? This question is much easier than it looks. Under the surface of these five words, it is all about values. Okay, so you care about your younger sister… what does that mean you value? Family? So, what does that say about who you are? Who is a person that values their family?
Tip #2- Get outside your comfort zone. Start small by taking a trip to a park outside your neighborhood with a friend. Read a book that you might not have read before — here’s a suggestion. Make a new friend, write in a journal, try a few new restaurants, go on a road trip with your family. Most importantly: Explore yourself through something new. Get to know you a bit more.
Tip #1- There are no shortages of books, guides, online tutorials, Youtube videos, and experts who will gladly charge you for access to a treasure trove of information about the college search. But the best place to start (and often the most cost-aware) is with your student’s secondary counselor. Nevermind that there are only two at your student’s 1,200 person school, the individuals in this profession are dedicated to help students navigate their futures and often are overrun with resources to aide in this process. Also, your student’s secondary counselor is sure to provide you with a manageable timeline for all things college-preparatory in nature.
Tip #2- An essential piece of the college search is not actually about finding colleges, but about helping your student figure some things out about themselves. Take them on a road trip, encourage them to explore, and read new books (maybe a parent/child summer read? Here’s a suggestion). Most importantly, your young person is going to have to grapple with some pretty tough questions in the not-too-distant future, so them help build up some experiences to make it a bit easier to self-reflect.
Finally, remember to keep in mind that the college frenzy is largely a veil. In truth, young people who have some sense of who they are realize that where they go is not who they will be. There are thousands of terrific colleges out there that are great for a variety of students. The actual search is much deeper.