National Decision Day for high school seniors is May 1st, a mere 15 hours from now. Most students have made their decision, but many are left with a difficult decision and the stress that accompanies it. My work as a college planner is incredibly rewarding for many reasons, and helping young minds make this very decision is a responsibility I take very seriously. Over the years I’ve repeated my mantra of “Delay the decision” not because I want students to avoid making a choice, but because at the very heart of what I do is a belief that it is always better to explore options and then decide than it is to make a quick and seemingly easy choice.
I’ve often sat across the kitchen table from a student, looked straight at her and said:
I want you to know that if I do my job well, the night of April 30th of your senior year may carry with it some pain and discomfort. But it won’t be because you don’t know what to do or haven’t been accepted to any colleges. It will be because you, your parents and I have done such a great job exploring the options and together we’ve helped you find not just one great college but several. And having to choose between two or three places where you absolutely would love to spend the next four years is indeed a very good thing.”
In practical terms there’s incredible value to having multiple options, not the least of which is the power to choose the most attractive financial aid package. But I also believe there’s value in knowing that life is not a clear, straight path, and at critical points in your journey you will need to choose, sometimes between what you perceive as good vs. bad options, but sometimes just between the good ones. And what I want an 18-year-old to hear me saying is this: “You’ve done the work — from homework to application essays to activities to community service to prepping for the ACT — and your diligence, creativity and passion are all being rewarded with a resounding ‘yes, we want you!’ by these great schools. Well done. But the choice doesn’t determine your destiny; the effort does, and that begins next fall when you step onto whichever campus you choose.”
Seniors, if you’re one of those lucky (!) ones who is trying to make your final decision right now, here’s how I recommend you spend at least one of your 15 remaining hours before tomorrow: take a quick mental trip back in time to the day you visited each campus…pull out the glossy view books…retrieve the letters and emails of congratulations…close your eyes and see yourself back on each campus. Remember the sights, the smells, the voices. Replay the conversations with your tour guide, the admissions officer, the students you met in union…
Ask yourself one and only one question: “Does this campus offer the very best opportunities for me to grow and mature as a young adult, and to prepare for a long and fruitful life?” When you say “yes” to one campus, and if you and your family have had the hard conversations to determine which colleges are affordable by whatever criteria you’ve agreed upon, then that’s where you should go. The standard line of “When I stepped onto campus I could just see myself there” is a genuine sentiment but it’s not enough. You need to not just see yourself on campus but see yourself doing something on campus (hint: “something” refers more to academics than social activities). And if you are very creative and ambitious, you can also see yourself leaving that campus, but the you that you envision four years from now is barely recognizable when compared to who you are at this moment. Because the right college for you is the one that doesn’t allow you to stay the same throughout four years. It’s the one that encourages and stretches you to become the very best you possible. That college is the University of You.
Word hard but find ways to enjoy the work.
Be good but have fun.
Hug your Mom but do your own laundry.
I wish you the very best.