Tomorrow, we will be traveling with my daughter to Orlando for a college tour. Since she is unsure of what she wants to study, and ultimately pursue as a career, her school counselor has advised us to visit any school that interests her.
With her graduation from high school a year away, we are told there is plenty of time to make choices and decisions. I, on the other hand, am a bit at sea.
When it was time for my college, my mother had a path already planned, two years at the local community college and two years at a small Christian college she and my stepfather had visited. I found myself with an enthusiastic pen pal who had met my mother and was sure we’d be great friends a few years hence. She sent brochures and bible verses until I told her and my mother I would not be going. Upon graduation from high school, I moved from my hometown and worked in fashion until I became bored. Because I would be paying my own way, and I had a job, my college choices centered around what was available locally. Luckily, I found a small private college with a fine reputation which allowed me to work full time while I pursued my studies. With a clearer vision of what I wanted in my life, I worked relentlessly toward graduation.
That’s not how others did it, I know. Most of my friends enjoyed the full college experience, visiting schools with their parents, receiving letters of interest and acceptance, packing up and moving into a lively dormitory, while their parents offered tearful goodbyes. They took spring breaks in Cancun, found great jobs after graduation and made life long friends.
These days, with the costs of college being so high, student loans forcing long years of repayment and questions about the employability of students graduating from college, it seems that there should be a specific direction in this search. We now have aptitude and interest surveys and computer programs that could, theoretically, help create lists of potential career paths and connect students to appropriate colleges. In spite of technology, this is not what my daughter is doing. She is all about the the chemistry of the place and her college advisor agrees. The questions we should be asking are not what majors are offered and how do they translate into paying jobs, how much will this cost, nor embarrassing questions about graduation and post degree employment rates, rather, we are to ask, “Are these my daughter’s peeps?” “How does this school feel?” And what other sorts of amusements and activities are available in and around the school.
As I listen to the kids, it’s no longer about going to study and prepare for a career, rather it is “the college experience”. They will figure it out once they have a few years under their belts. Learning and careers are sort of a byproduct of the exercise. While there is talk of “gap” years for work and developing perspective, my daughter’s peers are interested in going to college straight away, regardless of their lack of future direction and see no problem in spending their parents money or wracking up debt while they find their way.
I don’t know what the future holds for my daughter and her peers. Like every generation, they have new and different perspectives and yet, like us, they will somehow find their way.