To (Some) High School Seniors:

This is for everyone who is freaking out about college decisions right now, whether you’re anxiously waiting for that yes or no from your dream school, or just waiting on yourself to figure out which of your current options you should be dreaming about. Maybe you feel like your whole life hinges upon ending up at that “best school,” or even the more feel-good but equally elusive “best fit.”

Of course it seems like a really big deal. Everyone has been making a really big deal out of it. For some of you, getting into college has been framed as the end goal throughout most of your academic life: if not the final destination, then at least an essential rung on the all-important universal ladder of Life Success.

And of course it’s not getting any easier now. Everyone wants to know where you’re going so they can publish it in a fancy alumni list, offer their congratulations, gauge their own chances, or quietly judge. The next few months are going to involve many instances of you saying or writing your future school right after your name, so it’s easy to feel like it defines you.

But here’s the thing: just a few more months later, the college you go to is going to be the least interesting/impressive/unique/defining thing about you–because it will be exactly the same for everyone else there. What will differentiate you is who you are and what you’re doing. 

I’m not trying to argue that all colleges are the same–I’m sure you already have plenty of evidence to the contrary from your Googling and/or touring–or even that everyone can be equally happy at any school–I know enough transfer students who could speak against that. But for all the differences between schools, there is just as much variation in student experiences within each school. 

There are people aiming for big future salaries, people aiming to change the world, and lots of people who don’t really know what they’re aiming for. There are people who spend their time writing apps or writing poetry or directing musicals or conducting research or bringing down the system or protecting their pristine GPAs or watching Netflix or getting really really drunk. There are people at parties at 3 am on a Saturday, people in the depths of the library, and even some people who are asleep. There are people who are counting down the days until they get out of college and people who never plan to leave.

So even after that all-important moment of truth, when your fate is (more or less) sealed to one school you’ll still have all these options (the good, the bad, the ugly, and the not-yet-determined) and many more ahead of you.

So I understand your nerve-wracked anticipation–these letters and decisions are important–but try to believe me when I say that they are not the defining moment of your life. Your whole life is the defining moment of your life.

College is important, but lets not make it more important than it has to be.

Note: I know that not all high school students have had these same expectations and experiences with college, but I do think this applies to a big subset of people who might find this relevant.

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Things I Learned in 2013

  1. College admissions are not controlled by some magical, divine force. No matter what they tell you about ending up where you’re “meant to be,” it’s really just people and numbers on the other side of the process.
  2. That said, most people don’t need a flawlessly-matched college to have a positive experience.
  3. Moving, distance, semi-independent living, urban navigation, and time management are not nearly as hard as people make them out to be.
  4. It’s one thing to hear older artists talk about how they don’t care about success or external validation and like the idea, but it’s another to genuinely feel this way about myself. I need some distance from the constant panic and uncertainty of young adulthood before I can get to that place, and that’s okay.
  5. There is more than one way to be social.
  6. You know how people slightly older than you seem to have it all figured out. They don’t.
  7. Everyone’s life looks way more exciting/perfect on Facebook.
  8. It’s totally okay to feel lots of different things simultaneously. Acknowledging this make every one-word answer to “How are you?” feel painfully dishonest.
  9. Everyone is shamefully ignorant about something. Google helps.
  10. Not all snow is adequate for snowman building.
  11. I don’t actually know what my parents are thinking.
  12. People have no idea what I’m thinking either. Explaining is important.
  13. Java and JavaScript are actually not the same thing.

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Have a great new year, people. Or an average one. No pressure.