Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Least Helpful Advice: College edition

College tuition is in the news a lot lately and I've had some college-related stuff at work lately.  And then I wrote my last post about the least helpful advice I received as a teen and it got me thinking. 

There is a variant of this least helpful advice that also rears its head in high school.  It comes when guidance counselors are doing their thing regarding college choices and careers.  Now, I’m a pretty well rounded, “jack of all trades, master of none" type fellow.  That isn’t bragging.  I’ve often longed to have some overwhelming natural talent to direct me.  And as a result of what boils down to “be yourself” when choosing a college or career, this lack of direction gave me fits.

I’m 37, and have had what amounts to 3 careers.  I'm pondering a fourth.  And that isn't because I'm the untethered, wandering type; if anything, I'm the exact opposite.  Nor have the career changes come as a result of job losses.  All of the careers were tangential to each other and I've had access because I have lots of interests and a bevy of skills that make me passable in lots of different occupations.

But the down side to that is this: How, in high school, was I supposed to decide what career I might enjoy when I’m still sorting that out 17 years later?  And how do we expect any person to make an informed decision about a college?  We put so much pressure on choosing a college.  I remember the pressure acutely.  The pressure to choose a school you’ll enjoy; a quality school; a school with your major.

Having been to college, I ask this: how can we expect a high school student to make an educated decision about something about which they have absolutely no foundation to make?  It would be like asking you to pick where under the ocean you’d like to live.  Sure, you could make some fantasy guess - the shallow waters are nice what with their coral reefs, but then again, the trenches provide such unexplored depths - but that is exactly what it would be: a fantasy-based guess.  

So why are we putting so much pressure on this decision?  Shouldn’t we just tell the truth: that you should probably just pick a school whose campus you feel comfortable with and you can always transfer later.  Wouldn’t this make more sense then imposing a “choose or die” atmosphere that forces kids to feel like they have to drop out of school if they hate their choice?

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