Sunday, June 10, 2012

College Choices

The question I was always asked as I was apply to college was, “Where are you looking at?” And when I finally decided where to apply and had to decide, the question was “Where are you going?” I can only remember once actually being asked, “Why are you going to college?” Looking back on the process, I am rather struck at that difference. Shouldn’t why I am going be just as important, if not more important, than where I am going?

When the time came to choose a school the choice itself was difficult, for me at least. But the decision to go to college was easy. It wasn’t even a decision, it was simply an unspoken truth. I was going to attend college after high school. But why? No one ever told me and for the longest time I never bothered asking. I was too caught up in the process to see the purpose that lay behind the endless forms and essays. It’s almost fitting in a way that I only now take the time to reflect on such an important moment in my life, not before the deposit check was mailed off.

To figure out this whole “college thing,” I went around and talked to my friends. The answers that they brought back to me spanned a wide range of ideas, but generally fall into five categories: “I need to go to get a job”,   “I want to go somewhere new,” and “I want to learn new stuff,” “I’m not going,” and “I have no idea.” Many people had more than one reason, and some had none at all.

By far the most common reason was that people needed to go to college to get  a job. Keith was the most blunt about it, saying “I have to go. I need to get a job.” His sentiments were repeated over and over again. Some people, like Kaitlin who is going to the Restaurant School for pastry arts, said they couldn’t get the job they wanted unless they earned a certain degree first. Carissa went further: “You need college in order to get a career and prepare for real life.” For many seniors, college is a transition into the working world.

For others it is an escape. While some students want, or need, to stay close to home, others use college as a chance to move away from home. Kristen “wants to get out of here to see someplace new,” while I drew a circle around my house that represented a two-hour drive. I didn’t apply to any schools within that circle. The chance to stretch your wings and take incremental steps towards independence is definitely a crucial part of college considerations.

Another crucial part of deciding to go to college is to, well, learn stuff. Some people decided that they weren’t finished exploring new topics by the time they left high school and wanted to do more. For them, college is about diving into new topics and exploring their academic interests further. Jeff admitted, “I’m really nerdy. I want to have fun, intellectual adventures. I also want to drink soda and have intellectually stimulating conversations with girls,” he confessed. For people like Jeff, school is just as important as what comes after.

But college isn’t for everyone. Many people decide to do other things with their post-high school years. Some, like Brian, are joining the military. Others are taking a gap year before college to travel or do community service. Still others have jobs lined up for next year already. For them, college didn’t offer what they wanted out of life and so they chose a path that provided them with what they needed.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most common response I got when I asked this question was “I don’t know why.” I certainly don’t know. A few students said it was just the thing to do, while others pointed to parental pressure as their reason for going. One person even replied, “I don’t know, good music maybe.” But even if they are unsure why they are going, in August they will pack up their bags and move into a new world overloaded with possibilities and responsibilities.

One answer that has stuck with me, and who knows if it’s right for me or anyone, is that you go to college to make a difference. High school, no matter how much it prepares you for life, is still filling in other people’s bubble sheets and working to meet someone else’s standards. But once you leave those doors for the last time, you begin to make a difference. You engage with real problems and produce real solutions. You find yourself dealing with people out in the world. By being present and active in the community, you effect change in some way.

That’s why I am going to college. Or at least, that’s what I’m going to tell people from now on if I get asked. I want to make a difference in my world and I’m going to do that at college.

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