Well it’s that time of the year again when acceptance letters and financial aid offers have landed and the plans for attending college are now becoming very real.
I have a love-hate relationship with this moment in the college process. It brings such joy to see a student who has worked hard get the breakthrough they deserved. Watching kids accept and overcome a tough rejection and hold their heads high is pretty joyous too, in its own way.
But somehow before the dollars and cents are sorted out, before the final decision is settled and the deposit is mailed away, THE QUESTION lands: “What are you majoring in?”
Now before we get going here, know I’m all in when it comes to encouraging students to have a plan (or a couple of plans) and I know that with the horrifyingly exorbitant expense of higher education, no one wants to write that check and send their child off without a clue.
And yet, I believe right down to my toes that this is the wrong way to show your excitement for a young person who has a whole lot to figure out. It becomes over-the-top wrong when the questioner expresses disappointment when the response isn’t something they perceive to be grand, prestigious or guaranteed to pay really well.
You know, I’ve never heard anyone ask a high school senior how they plan to use their first year of college to discover the kind of person they want to be, or what their plan is for exploring all of the paths available to them. Those conversations would be fun to listen in on.
College, like every level of education, is more than just advanced instruction in the 3Rs. It’s a complex process of learning and mastering a whole range of new things and connecting it all to where a student has been, is, and where he or she is going.
It’s okay to have a college major or a career in mind, it’s okay to not have one. Knowing happens at different times for different students. I knew a 7th grader who told me the first time I met him that he wanted to be a doctor. And he’s a doctor. I’ve also known 12th graders, and college seniors who didn’t know quite yet where they were headed exactly. They figured it out and are living happy, productive career and personal lives.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “but it’s a waste of money!” An investment in learning will forever compound and like its financial counterpart in this analogy, investments mature and grow at different rates – impacted by all sorts of market factors some of which are predictable and some that are not. Ultimately, I believe that the cost of pressuring a young person into claiming a career prize they don’t want to earn poses a much greater risk for a wasted investment.
So, as the young people in our lives approach this momentous crossroads I’d like to propose that we please, just stop with the college major question. Let’s affirm and empower! These are a few of the questions I plan to ask the class of 2021:
- When do you register for your first ever college classes?
- What do you love about the school you’ve chosen?
- (and if the student is still in the throes of deciding) What 3 things are important factors in your choice?
- What is one goal you have for your first year?
- What out-of-class aspects of college life are you looking forward to?
- When is your very first day of class?
- Who was the first person you told about getting in?
- How do you feel about your accomplishment?
And now, fly.