Friday, December 15, 2006
A decade ago, at age six, I was planning on being president of the United States. I even had a shirt proclaiming "Future President" that I wore proudly. The most important part of this dream was how I was going to get there — by going to Harvard University. From the moment I saw the school's gates in Cambridge, all I could dream about was myself sitting in the Oval Office, my Harvard diploma displayed on the wall.
Well, things have changed. The last ten years have brought more than a few reality checks, and as for my college choice, let's just say that calling Harvard a "reach school" for me would be the understatement of the century.
Unknown college landscape
Lots of kids have dreams like mine, plans for their futures and places they would like to go. But standing between an 18-year-old and his or her career of choice is the gloomy, unknown landscape of college (cue scary music here). There are plenty who take a year off, or forego the experience altogether, but for most juniors and seniors at CCHS, the college search is a process that follows us from the first class of the day to the last extra-curricular that night.
Choosing the colleges I'm interested in shouldn't be all that hard, right? But the most difficult part in dissecting those 10-pound college books is ignoring everybody else and focusing on just me. For teenagers who have spent their whole lives in the Carlisle school system, it's not an easy task to imagine oneself in a metropolis like New York City or a climate like California. April vacation of junior year has become the "college visit" week, where I and most of the students I know will be checking out a few of their top picks. I have been told time and time again by unhappy students that you should visit any college you are serious about, because without a visit, you have no way of knowing if you will like the atmosphere. Another factor in location is actual travel distance: some kids have trouble going too far from home, and more than a few parents don't want their children wandering away from the nest. A CCHS student who takes off for UCLA or Stanford will most likely not be coming home more than once during the year, and that could rule out a West Coast school completely.
The pressure of a parent's college
I have practically grown up at Middlebury College in Vermont because of the four alumni in my family, and it is hard to understand if my love for the school comes from personal preference or just general familiarity. The pressure to look into a parent's college has the possibility of overwhelming students who are trying hard to focus on their own needs. In many cases, the pressure is accidental; parents are merely trying to use their own experience as a guide. These sorts of issues make guidance counselors a necessity in the application process; they are qualified and hired to aid teenagers in the search without putting in their own two cents.
Ending up at the wrong school
I have to admit that college scares the heck out of me, and while the excitement of freedom used to be sufficient, the worry that I'll end up in the wrong school is enough to make me want to pose as a ninth grader instead of graduating next year. Even though I no longer aspire to be the first woman president, I'm toying with more ideas and more goals, many of which have nothing to do with each other — journalist, high school teacher, photographer, marketer, actress, writer — the list goes on and on, but with each club or major I'm looking for, the list of colleges available gets shorter and shorter.
I have not brought SAT scores or my GPA into this equation for a very good reason: grades do not determine whether students are content in a four-year college or university. Even with the poorest of report cards, someone can be happier at their school than a high honors student at Harvard. Parents and kids alike have trouble with this concept. It's always been the same idea: good grades will get you into a top school, which offers a better education to get you a better job with a higher pay. This equation works out fine for those who achieve said grades. But for those who struggle to meet CCHS's high standards, the disappointment brought down on them by other people discourages them from trying for "reach schools." Pushing a student to apply to unrealistic colleges has lots of potential to go terribly wrong.
The Great College Search
I've only just started the Great College Search and already it consumes me. I'm hoping that the tidal wave slows down until I at least get my PSAT scores and can sit down with my guidance counselor. In reality, I've barely scratched the surface here, concerning the fears and dilemmas that surround the college application process. I can only hope that those who read this article become more aware of the pressures put on juniors and seniors, not only by parents and by the school, but also by ourselves. My parents might want me to be happy in school, and my friends might want me to be within reach, but no one wants me to find the perfect college more than I do.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito