College Decision Day is here! It is certainly exciting to see social media posts with happy students excitedly sporting their college swag and reading about how proud parents are of their children and their accomplishments. Students should be excited, and parents should be proud of them. There is nothing better for a parent than to see their child succeed, be recognized, and triumph over struggles or challenges. But the tradition of having students sport their chosen college sweatshirt on May 1st doesn’t give students (or parents) the opportunity to share their whole, unique stories, nor does it advertise all they are accomplishing by choosing the name on their sweatshirt.
Today, some students will be donning sweatshirts with the names of highly selective and prestigious schools. These students will receive wide-eyed and amazed responses such as, “Wow! How did you get in there?” These focused and driven students have worked extremely hard are doing amazingly impressive things, while balancing multiple tasks and pressures with grace and tenacity.
There are also students that will be sporting sweatshirts with names of colleges that people might not recognize, and they might not receive the same gushing admiration as the prestigious shirt-wearers. Yet their stories and accomplishments are just as important. These students might have stories about hurdles they had to overcome and chose a college that honors and supports their learning styles, or where they earned a great scholarship and will graduate with zero debt that will set them up for opportunities down the road; or where they get two years to explore majors before having to decide their future path.
Other students will be wearing state school sweatshirts and will likely have a lot of company in hearing, “Oh, good for you,” or “Your mom must be happy you are staying close by.” These students will have multiple different reasons for choosing to “stay in-state” but all of them will share the fact that this was “the best choice for them because….” There will also be students not sporting a college sweatshirt. Maybe they are late bloomers taking a Gap Year, or maybe their talents are more applied in nature than in the classroom.
Students’ future success is based more on their individual characteristics than it is about where they go to college. But choosing to go to a college where a student feels they belong and where they will feel supported is critical to their mental health. Additionally, it is equally important that students and families understand the risks associated with student loan debt, and choose a financially-fit college for their family situation. That might be at an Ivy League school, or it might be a liberal arts college, or it might be starting at a community college. With colleges reporting the rates of mental health issues among students on the rise, it is extremely important for students to honor all of their needs when choosing a college, and for the rest of us to applaud them for doing so.
Regardless of what name is or is not on a student’s chest on May 1st, there are important reasons and stories behind each decision. When I work with students on putting together their list of best-fit colleges, we not only examine what college qualities they are searching for, but we also examine what they value. Sweatshirts don’t always tell the world that a student has gotten into the very best school that supports his/her values. They don’t say, “I will get to pursue chemical engineering here, and get to study abroad, and play my favorite sport.” They don’t print, “Will graduate with zero debt”, “Will be accepted for my….” or “Will have great academic support for my learning disability here.”
As we celebrate “Decision Day”, I encourage everyone to remember that regardless of college rankings, most students are wise enough to choose a college not based on an arbitrary list, but rather based on their stories and their values. Congratulations to all seniors! I look forward to seeing a thousand different names on sweatshirts today.