Choosing where to go to college is not an easy decision, often because it feels so important. The children are told that the path after high school will determine how the rest of their lives will go. But writer Kelly Corrigan says this is the big lie society needs to stop telling.
“The lie is that this is a binary moment,” said Corrigan, who also hosts the podcast Kelly Corrigan Miracle. “[That] If you achieve the University of Stretch’s Dream Goal, everything will turn out accordingly. And if you don’t, you’re kind of screwed.”
But that’s actually not the case, she said.
For starters, Corrigan acknowledges that even the thought of college is a privilege not everyone has. And even for those considering it, the financial aspect can be just as stressful as the rest of the application process.
But for those who apply, it can be a moment of growth, argues Corrigan, and a moment worth celebrating.
The stress of applying starts long before high school
Corrigan has two children who are now in college, but before they got there they went through what she says “the dumpster fire that’s senior citizen’s fall” while working on their college applications.
The process puts kids through the wringer and makes them think about big questions about how the next chapter will be funded, and Corrigan says it forces them to grow. And while parents might want to help, Corrigan argues that they should let their kids lead the way.
Parents have a role to play in this process and can help, but to do that, they should start thinking about it long before the seniors fall, Corrigan says, and possibly start with a decision on how much to talk about college — and even use the word themselves when their children are small.
“I know that most parents say the word college far too often before their kids enter senior year, [and] You can’t just take it back with a statement,” she said.
When parents have talked about the college and schools they went to and where their friends studied, it’s almost impossible for kids not to internalize that to some degree, Corrigan said. And she speaks from experience.
“I really feel like we screwed it up on some level, to be completely honest with you. Because it came up a lot. It came up too much,” she said.
Stepping back and monitoring how much you’re talking about college as a parent can help, Corrigan said. It puts high schoolers in the driver’s seat as they work to navigate what they want.
Deciding what to do after high school requires more questions than “Where do you want to go to college?”
It’s an approach that high school counselor Jennifer Kirk agrees with. Kirk works at Upper St. Clair High School just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is the Board Chair of the Pennsylvania School Counselors Association.
Kirk says that the thought of post-secondary education — not just a four-year college degree — really starts in kindergarten as kids are exposed to industries. Teaching at school, medicine at doctor’s visits and the jobs of their parents and parents’ friends are just a few examples.
To break some of that, she focuses on questions beyond “Where do you want to go to college?”. and asks about location, campus flair, sports, music and accessibility to a range of other features.
“There has to be a strong self-reflection, because what’s wonderful to me is different from your wonderful, different from my mother or father’s wonderful, different from my friend’s wonderful,” Kirk said. “Coaching a 17 or 18-year-old to have the strength and courage to reflect authentically is a big deal.”
Parents are invited to these conversations, but the focus is still on the students because “the first big thing they do is decide where they’re going to end up after high school,” Kirk said.
A lot of the stress in this process also comes from students thinking they’re going to make the wrong choice, Kirk said. This mentality is the result of society catastrophizing the wrong choice in school, and television and Hollywood perpetuate unrealistic notions of what college life is actually like, she said, adding that it’s called “the best four years of your life.” ” on sale is.
“It’s the next four to six years of your life,” Kirk said. “We want them to be great, and then ideally you’ll graduate and enter the workforce and live another 50 to 75 years.”
And the decades that follow can be great, too—and maybe even include the “best years of your life.”
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