Down to the College Wire

Down to the college wire.

It’s April 1. College admissions decisions are out there for most schools, and now it’s time for lots of high school seniors to make their final choice. My daughter decided long ago, so we were happy to step off that hamster wheel, but she has friends who are still deciding. God bless them. Some of them are having a difficult time for lots of different reasons. Some didn’t get into their top choice. Some got into none of their top choices. Some got into every school they applied to and can’t decide which one is best. It’s just not easy. It’s an adult decision…the first adult decision lots of them have ever made. They feel alone. They know they are embarking on a new experience, but it can be scary, and they are afraid of making the wrong choice. You see that guy in the feature photo for this piece? He’s sitting there alone…that’s how lots of them feel right now… like they are alone. They need support from the folks who love them.

I’m no college counselor. I’m simply a parent of a high school senior, but there is one thing I wish all kids would consider: they need to find the best choice for themselves.

I hear lots of seniors saying their parents want them to go to one college, but they want to go somewhere else. I hear lots of them say they don’t want to disappoint their teachers/college counselors. I hear lots of them say they want to pick a school by how it’s ranked in US News and World Report. Who am I to say they’re wrong with their methods of decision-making? So no, I’m not going to say they are “wrong.”

I do, however, want to remind them they are the ones going to the school. Their parents won’t be attending. (If their parents are paying, affordability might come into play.) Their college counselors and classmates won’t be sitting in their desks in the classrooms, living in the dorm, or going to athletic events. Each senior needs to make his/her decision based on his/her preferences, because guess what? US News and World Report isn’t going to college either. What US News and World Report thinks is most important might not be what you think is most important. Different people like different things!

And as these kids (yes, they are still kids) make their final decisions, we need to offer them support instead of shaming them for their choices. I know lots of kids who get into “highly ranked institutions,” but they choose a school with a “lower ranking” because it offers other things they want. My own daughter would never get into an Ivy League school, but that’s OK, because that’s not where she wants to be anyway. And there are other kids who do get into Ivy League schools but opt for something else where they will have a different experience. Big sports are important to our daughter, and she would laugh at Ivy League football games. No offense to the Ivy League people of the world, of course, but she likes to watch more competitive football. I have lots of Ivy League friends I love, but even they admit SEC football is awesome.

Some kids want to go to schools that are more outdoorsy. In North Carolina, one school that is “outdoorsy” is Appalachian State University. I know lots of very successful people who went to school there and loved it. Is it a Top 50 school, according to US News and World Report? No. But it’s number one to those people who love it. All kinds of people go there, though…not just the “outdoorsy” people. I went to the University of Alabama. Again, not a Top 50 school by US News and World Report’s rankings, but I think it’s number one! It’s fun! It’s absolutely gorgeous…looks like a movie set. It has a wide array of majors and lots of opportunities in different areas. And it’s geographically diverse. I made some of my best life memories there and certainly made lifelong friends from all over the country. Over 65% of the student body is from out of state. The weather during tornado season is iffy, but most winters are pretty mild, and the sun shines a lot. Some people (like me and my daughter!) don’t want cold climates. And come on…football season is crazy fun there. Also, BarstoolU just ranked it as the number one party school in the country. Lots of people likely think that’s shallow. I think it’s important to have lots of options for fun, and so does my daughter.

Some of these kids might get into “highly ranked” big colleges/universities, but some of those same kids might think a smaller, liberal arts college would be a better fit for their personality. Don’t look down on them for choosing what is best for them. Applaud them for knowing themselves! You can’t put a square peg into a round hole. Or maybe you can, but the square peg likely won’t be happy there. And ultimately, don’t we want our kids to be happy in college? We want them to be happy there so they will stay there. We want them to be successful in college and beyond.

On the flip side, I was talking with a woman a few days ago who was in distress that her daughter wanted to go to a college far away. She wants her daughter to be happy, but said they don’t have any idea how they will pay for transportation costs. Yes, these kids are still kids, but they are pretty reasonable too, and they often understand that affordability counts too. Guess who is not paying your child’s college tuition? The college counselors at your school aren’t paying it. Their friends’ parents aren’t paying it. And their friends are not paying it. Some of them truly need to go to the “highest bidder,” meaning they need to go to the school that offers them the most money/financial aid.

And I recently spoke with another parent of a high school senior who was trying to make the decision for her daughter, saying, “She wants to go to XXXX University, but I just think she would love XXXXX University. I wanted to go there, but my parents wouldn’t pay the out of state tuition.” She’s trying to push her daughter into going where she wanted to go. Ick. We can’t live vicariously. We, the parents, aren’t going to college. We need to remember that too.

Here’s the skinny: each kid who is deciding on a college right now has different factors to consider. They have different priorities and different interests. Let’s applaud them for their decisions; this is one of the first tough decisions they will make in life.

We’re getting down to the college wire. Again, I’m not a college counselor, but I know it’s a tough time for lots of teens. Celebrate their decisions.