In the months leading up to my high school graduation in 2009, I felt like a loser to put it bluntly. It seemed like every day, in every class, someone was getting an acceptance letter to one of their top picked universities. But I, regardless of excelling in school and earning a high GPA, was in a different head space. College just wasn’t part of my future. Yes, my grades were great, my parents were proud, but the daily guessing game of “Who’s Gonna Be Our Valedictorian” didn’t interest me. People were solidifying their post-grad plans but I couldn’t care less. By senior year, I didn’t look to partake in the constant, boring banter:
Teacher: So where are you going?
Kid: I was accepted to blah blah blah, I’m moving to yada, yada.
Teacher: Ohhhhh congratulations! That’s such a great school; my daughter went there.
Teacher: Yeah! She majored in so and so. What are you going for?
Kid: I’m going to do a dual major in yada and blah.
Teacher: Wow! Impressive…
Boring. Now even though I didn’t actually care to engage in that, let me clarify why I felt like a loser. I felt lumped with the underachievers and slackers who had made no plans for their lives. No teachers were congratulating me, advising me. And why? Because I hadn’t bothered to apply to any schools! I didn’t actually want to go, no matter how intelligent…Though I’d spent the entire year before trying to make myself look like an asset to universities, it wasn’t something that I felt strongly about.
You know the college preparatory commotion that all 16-17 year old students put themselves through. If not, allow me to paint a picture.
It all starts in junior year – the home stretch. Kids are informed that this is, without a doubt, the most crucial year of their lives. This is the year of college applications, campus visitations, and the dreaded SAT. Oh wait! Don’t forget the ACT! For the duration of 11th grade, students flood the guidance counselor’s office and the classrooms of former teachers, looking for letters of recommendation, transcripts, scholarships, community service hours, emotional and psychological help! People are stressing themselves out to ensure that they look appetizing and delectable on their college apps. I’m talking brownies a la mode.
Students begin saturating their class schedules with courses like Trig, Calc, and Stats, skipping lunch and packing in Physics so that they place in the top percentile which will reflect in that ever-important GPA. Everyone is feeling that same pressure. Then the guidance counselors start calling kids into their offices one by one for a “plan your future” meeting. They invoke this fear in you that if you don’t have a plan for your life by now, you never will.
And that’s the basic picture. The details aren’t necessary because every school operates differently but I think you get it. In junior year, I bought into the hype. I hustled and bustled, searching for universities and scholarships, getting letters of recommendation, trying to take on way too many classes, and obsessing over who had the highest GPA. The following year, I just didn’t care anymore but I couldn’t help feeling undervalued. It was like success was a guarantee only for those who had their lives mapped out by 17 years old and senior year was the time to celebrate those kids who put in the hard work to get to this crucial point.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire those who slaved for straight A’s, developed killer applications, aced interviews and all that jazz. But what about the ones who were unconventional and different? What about people like me? There are lots of high school students that know they’re just as intelligent as the class Valedictorian but 4 more years of school isn’t the right path. Although teachers and guidance counselors are just doing their jobs, it’s unwise to scare kids into thinking that they’ll never make it if they don’t follow the formula:
Junior year (extracurricular activities) + high test scores and GPA’s = college acceptance. College acceptance + senior year = ultimate accomplishment. College degree + working for the man = American dream.
These things are absolutely noble accomplishments but not everyone fits that mold. To me, the formula goes like this:
Junior year + too much on my plate = stress. Stress = – hair. College acceptance = (-$120,000 or more). College degree + working for the man = ultimate waste of 40 hours a week. I’m getting to a point here. Eventually, I gave in and went to college, ignoring my own beliefs. On the positive side, I did it on my own terms:
- My parents never pressured me. They believe that an education is important and can take you far in life but they also know me and way back then, they understood that college may not be my thing.
- I enrolled online and took classes at my own pace. This gave me the freedom to do the things that I valued. I didn’t move away so I could still attend my home church. Because all I needed was a computer, I could do my work on the go, enabling me to travel and stay flexible with a full-time work schedule that came later.
But even with all of this convenience, I don’t feel as though my college education equipped me with any real skills or preparation to go out there and take on the world of business. Now I have to admit that I have learned many things in college. There have been some amazing, eye-opening lessons and wonderful professors. However, those things came with a hefty price tag and lack of fulfillment.
My educational background looks impressive on paper and puts an impressive hole in my bank account. Sure, I’ve obtained work in the last few years. Entry-level office work that I detested, though I was grateful for the paycheck. Perhaps I should have gone to school for some type of writing career because writing is what I really love. Maybe I should’ve attended a university with an excellent performing arts program since acting is another talent of mine.
Maybe I’m wrong about that too…I mean would that ensure a career (not just a job) in the industry I want to be in?
The way I see it is like this: Your talents make room for you. College is great but it guarantees us nothing. In fact, what I’m doing now to make a living has nothing to do with my background in business. Had I gone to school for acting or writing, would a $120,000 investment have put me any closer to my dreams of being a best-selling author who retires in a cozy secluded home or an A-list actress who buys an island?
So many of the ones who graduated high school with me and seemed to have their futures all figured out have borrowed loans, obtained degrees, and have no idea what they want to do now. In fact, lots of my old classmates aren’t hired in their field. And silly me – I followed suit out of fear. I was afraid that if I didn’t go to school as a Plan B that I’d fall on my behind. As it turns out, I spent so much time on Plan B that I never really devoted myself to Plan A, which was to go with my heart.
Some people aren’t meant to go to college. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, if you have a gift or if there’s something you love to do, then go for it. Most of the time, it’s the crafty, the innovative, the unconventional ones who start out on a rocky road, alone without a lot of people believing in them. They begin businesses in their garages, not in classrooms. Often, it’s that one quirky kid who finds a way to use their natural talents to earn a living. Sometimes, that living is just enough to buy an island.
I’m not knocking the school-goers, the doctors and lawyers, the biologists, the physicists, the ones who work behind desks from 9 to 5. Those people are needed and loved and appreciated! They’re not boring or dumb and they’ve done nothing wrong. But that life isn’t for everyone. Some people truly want to own their lives and not be responsible for punching a time clock. There are people like me who see college as the fast track to stagnation, step one on the path to a corporate choke hold.
High school students should be encouraged to find the thing that makes them unique and use it. Why don’t we spend more time cultivating kids’ talents instead of forcing them into one idea of success and achievement. Again, working hard, going to school, landing a dream career in a specific field is wonderful and commendable. It’s just not for everyone and unconventional people like me, people who find themselves on the less traveled roads, need to know from day one that there are many definitions of success and many ways to get it.
My advice: Don’t be pressured. Don’t rush into college because you’re supposed to. If you go, do it because you want to. But if you’re that one fly-away hair in an otherwise perfectly polished mane, then do the thing you’re in love with.