I, like many other children, assumed that college was not only necessary, but that it was pretty much exactly like the same old school I was used to. Boy oh boy, was I wrong.
I think I was around 11-12 when I realized that student loans were a thing. I thought college was only different from high school because you live on campus (dormitories). Learning not only that you had to pay to take classes, but also PAY to live in a dorm, blew my mind.
Until relatively recently, I had absolutely no desire to go to college, and I think a lot of that stemmed from me not knowing what I wanted to do. I have hobbies that could transfer into a career, but they’re all creative, and the creative industry is not a very stable one. Obviously, it is important to love what you do, but whenever I considered my future career, I saw financial stability. As much as I love writing, it is not the most dependable career choice in existence.
I decided I would never go to medical school at the same time I learned college wasn’t required. I am not sure why I singled out medical school; I think part of it had to do with me watching my mother go through nursing school. And, as some of you may know, nursing school is 4 years long, not including the gen ed that prefaces it. Which, after learning I didn’t even have to go to college to begin with, seemed excessive and undesirable.
As you can imagine, I faced a turning point: I discovered that I didn’t have to drop everything and move into a dorm the moment I turned 18. My brother accepted a full-time job after he graduated high school, and the way my parents responded taught me something really important: my pursuit of higher education didn’t have to be average.
I was never told that if I wanted to go to college, I’d have to move out, live in a dorm, and be broke until I got my degree — I just assumed I had to because it is what everyone else did. And I think the idea of being alone in a dorm, in debt, without any money… I think that’s what scared me most about college.
I watched my brother take college courses while also going to work and living at home, and my parents merely mentioning I could do the same gave me the freedom to make my own choices. I no longer felt trapped in a role, no longer did I have to choose all or nothing when it came to college. I realized I had options, which was so liberating that I really ca not put it into words.
I wouldn’t have to move out right away.
I wouldn’t have to simultaneously manage being in debt and paying for rent.
I could still work 20+ hour weeks.
It didn’t have to be all or nothing.
College is an overwhelming thing to think about. Leaving home, studying like crazy, student loans, all on my lonesome. It hurts my brain when I think about for too long. But, for some of us, it is a necessary step towards our future.
When I was a kid, I loved the stories my parents would tell me about their college experiences. Not only did I enjoy learning about how they met and the fun times they had, but college was a foreign and complex idea that interested me. I liked to hear about their majors and favorite professors, among other things.
Unlike some kids, I never felt the pressure to attend college. My parents told me I could do anything I wanted, and that included college. If I did not want a higher education, there was no pressure, at least from parents. I am truly grateful for this. If I had been forced into college, it would not be enjoyable, but a duty. I look forward to college because it is something I want.
The older I grew, the more I wanted to plan my future and so I became fascinated by college. One thing I have learned to love about myself is my idealistic mindset. I am always planning ahead, imagining the big picture. I have been “planning” for college for a few years now because of that trait. Another characteristic that has helped me in thinking about school is my desire to know everything. So when a school interests me, I might spend hours on their website, trying to find everything that I can. I can pick which ones interest me based on the information I have.
A huge thing that has fueled my passion for college is that I’ve always known what I wanted to do. That does sounds dramatic; so let me break it down for you. When I was young, I wanted to be an author. And then I wanted to be a journalist for a little while. When that phase was over, I was certain I wanted to be an English teacher. See a pattern? You might have guessed it: I want to major in English. Going to college with an idea of what I want my future to look like makes college less intimidating. With all that said, I am not giving you ways to be successful in a college search, or how to pick the best one, or anything like that. I am simply expressing how my personality fits in the “going to college” crowd.
As Lauren said earlier, student loans are a thing, and a scary thing at that. This is the part of college all of us wish we could ignore, right? Sadly, we cannot. In my previously mentioned research, I have found many grants and scholarships that would help any given student. I’ll save you a list of schools that have made education more affordable and I’ll just say: do your research on your chosen school. See if they have scholarships you can apply for and by all means, avoid student loans if possible. I would assume the last thing anyone wants is to be in is drowning debt, at any period of their lives.
I am not sure if you’ve toured any colleges, but if you have, have you noticed how different each college feels? The air you breathe just feels different on every campus. Find the air that best settles in your lungs. In other words, find a college that works for you. Do not please anyone else with your choice. After all, you will be the one studying there for a few years. So look for colleges that offer your preferred major, your favorite sport, has six libraries, or just whatever fits your fancy.
Whether or not we like to admit it, we are all a little bit scared to leave our family and to live on our own. Sure, it will be an adventure. Sure, you have been excited about leaving. But when it comes down to it, you won’t be able to eat Mom’s homemade soup regularly anymore. And obviously, you’ll miss your annoying little brother too. You could attend a school in close vicinity to your family and then you can eat Mom’s soup every night, but some of us might find our home elsewhere. Long story short, it will be a new and scary adventure, an adventure you can’t take your family on like we could in high school.
But not everyone needs to go to college. As I have met several successful people who never even graduated from college. Likewise, there are people my age who would not enjoy and appreciate a higher education as I would. College is not the key to success, but a stepping stool. Long story short, don’t worry about a higher education if that’s not what you want.
Make your college search personal and choose the school that you feel you will thrive in. Be smart about the decisions you make regarding college. Ultimately though, college may or may not be apart of your story, but you need to find the resources to be successful in whatever you want to pursue in life.
Maybe you are like Kayelona, and you have had a mostly positive relationship with college. Maybe you’re more like me, and your opinions on college have changed with your age. Maybe you have already been through these dilemmas, maybe you’re trying to avoid them at all costs. Regardless, I think we all have a lot to learn when it comes to college. I don’t mean that in a ‘everyone should go to college if they want to succeed’ way; I mean that, as cheesy as it sounds, we have a lot to learn from each other.
As you read, a lot of my worries were solved by simply listening to other people’s stories. I was so caught up in my own head that I didn’t realize college doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all.
There are so many different ways to attend college, so many different degrees, so many career options. If you are struggling with the idea of college, reach out to someone: a guidance counselor, a teacher, a parent, or a friend. You may discover that college just isn’t right for you. However, you might open yourself up to more opportunities than imaginable.
Basically, what we’re saying here is to specialize your college experience to what you need. You might be like Lauren who is interested in the unconventional college path. Or you might be like me who is excited about the whole college experience. Maybe you’re in between. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your personal college experience. When you get to college, if that’s where you’re headed, join clubs and take classes that interest you. Make the years after college about learning, experiences, and meeting new people; however that looks it is up to you.
College is intimidating, I know. Maybe make a list of everything you want in a college and base your search on that. You might be a researcher like me and try to discover all the college has to offer, whether online or by tour. You might be like Lauren and have learned from people around you. But as I said, there really is no cut-and-dry, right or wrong answer to college. Any college experience you can imagine is probably offered somewhere, you just have to find it.
Best of luck!
K + L