A Message To High Schoolers

Kids, I have some messages to tell you.  I need you to promise me that this is just between us, okay?  You will find these things out eventually, but it is better to know about them now.  For most of you, your parents really worry about money.  They worry about how they are going to pay for college if you and your siblings choose to go to an expensive private college.  They wonder if their jobs are in jeopardy, how they will fix the car or the furnace or put a new roof on the house.  They will tell you that everything will be okay and that this is not something for you to worry about, and that is true.  But it is not something that you should ignore, either.

They also do not know the right thing to do.  They have the same doubts and worries that you have when you make a decision, but theirs frequently have greater costs when they make mistakes.  Your mistakes result in break-ups or an F on a test; theirs to divorce or losing their home.  Your parents frequently feel guilty for everything that went wrong in your life or theirs.  You know that time you got stitches from that fall when you were four.  Guilt.  They should have been watching you better.  Why it this important to know?  Because until you are living on your own and providing for yourself (and maybe not even then), they will still be trying to control and protect you not because you need it, but because THEY need to do it.  Be kind and patient yet firm.  Your independence comes with the cost of learning and sometimes suffering from your mistakes.  That’s what life is all about.  There will come a time, many years in the future, where you be worrying about and taking care of your parents.  This is not that time.  But it is the beginning of the process of you taking care of yourself and you have as much control of this transition as your parents do

There is a natural tendency to believe that there is nothing out of your control.  Your parents have been acting on this for most of your life.  They have tried to find the best pre-school for you, the best medical care, the best teachers, and the safest neighborhood.  They made sure you had clothes which were functional yet cool, that you were not bullied, and that you were given every possible advantage to be happy and successful.  This has its pinnacle in the college admissions process.  If you believe what your read in the media, admission into the “right” college will be the key that will open the door to your future success.  Finding the right college will have advantages in life, but this is not it.  You will make some friends that will last for the rest of your lives.  And you will learn what you are good at and enjoy doing.  But you will not have a ticket for life.

Often admission to graduate school or getting hired is more of a function of how you succeeded at a difficult situation, like dealing with the bureaucracy at a large state university, than succeeding in a pampered environment.  You will find and go to a college that is right for you, and if not, transferring is a perfectly viable option.  After your twenties, no one cares about what you got on your SAT’s, what colleges you got into or even what college you attended.  What matters is what you have accomplished with you have had and what skills and characteristics you bring to the table

College will change your life.  It will teach you to learn how to learn, something you were not ready for up to this point.  You will learn that there are many more questions than answers and things you took for granted as facts are, in truth, just opinions.  You will learn how good you are at making your own intellectual decisions.  You will learn how to try out different lifestyles like never before and how to learn from your mistakes.  Can these things happen at any college?  Yes.  Will they?  Yes, if you go to the college that is right for you.

The college process seems to almost begin the same way, with this scanning of the horizon.  There is this natural desire to find out everything you can about the 3000+ colleges out there.  About rural and urban colleges, big and small colleges, liberal and conservative colleges, colleges that stress career training and those who don’t.  The truth is that this is NOT the place to begin the college search.  The first thing to look at is at you.  If the college process is a camera, you should begin with taking a picture of yourself, with the camera pointing toward you, not away from you.  What style works best for you?  Do you like crowds or more intimate settings?  Do you like reading and writing?  Do you like to tinker with things?  My two older children had virtual identical upbringings with virtually identical credentials for college.  One went to our large state university and the other to a tiny, highly selective liberal arts college.  Both are extremely happy and successful where they are and both would probably not be happy at the other’s college.  They found “best” colleges, that is, best colleges for them.



Author: Scott White

I am a nationally recognized expert on college admissions, having worked in schools and colleges for 35 years. I have been regularly quoted in major publications including the NY Times, the LA Times, The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, Time Magazine and others. I am widely published on various aspects of the college admissions process and present at state and national conferences on a variety of college admissions related topics. I have worked in college admissions as well as independent day and boarding schools. The last 25 years I have worked in public schools, 14 as a school counselor and then as a Director of Guidance at elite, suburban public schools including Montclair High School, Westfield High School and Morristown High School. I am now an independent college counselor for SW College Consulting in Montclair. I can be contacted as swcollegeconsulting@gmail.com or 973-919-6798.

One thought on “A Message To High Schoolers”

  1. Excellent insights here. As a lecturer in first-year writing, I find it challenging not to morph into an academic counselor with my students at times. There is so much I would like to share with them, but one semester hardly seems enough. Thank you for these insights – I plan to share a few!


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