Monday, October 22, 2007

I don't know

It's that time of the year. The juniors don't believe me, but the seniors are already filling out college and scholarship applications, getting letters of recommendation, writing personal essays. So far, I've had a couple of former students stop by for help. One kid has already shown me four versions of his personal essay. With each one, I say, "It's good! But to make it great, you need to ..." He follows most of my advice, adds, deletes, changes things around, and eventually he'll have a really nice essay. I wish more students were like that. But this kid is something else.

Get this: He was born in Tanzania, then lived in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and India before moving to Chicago. His dad works for the Indian government, so he moves all over the world with the family. Those are the kinds of students I am lucky enough to work with.

Now get this: Despite this student being very worldly and coming from a very educated background, he still knows very little about what is possible when it comes to college. When we last spoke about his essay, I asked him where he was applying. Loyola. U of I. Places near here.

I asked him, "Are your parents telling you to study somewhere near Chicago?"

"No, not really. They said I can go wherever I'm accepted."

"Then are you applying to Chicago-area schools because you're in love with Chicago?"

"No. I don't know."

In my room was another student, a Filipino girl in the same exact situation. Her family moved here last year, her parents will let her go anywhere she wants, and she's applying to local schools.

"Do either of you love the winter here?" I asked.

"No, last year was so freezing," she said.

"I don't mind the snow," he said.

I sat them down in front of a computer, and we started looking at possibilities. California for her. Vermont or Colorado for him. They were worried about out-of-state tuition. I showed them that private schools like Loyola have no such thing. "There are schools like Loyola in every state," I told them. "You should choose a school based on what you want to study. And where you want to live for the next four years."

Their "homework" was to research schools and states. Then, tomorrow, they have to report back to me.

I was reminded of this conversation yesterday when a friend of mine asked me why I had chosen to go to Northern Illinois University. When I answered "I don't know," he said that that wasn't a good enough reason. But I've been thinking about it. And I really don't have a good reason why I chose that school and not another.

Neither of my parents had gone to college, so they were no help. My brother was off in boot camp when I was deciding. I went to a giant high school where I met with a counselor exactly once in four years. So, when it was time to apply to college, I didn't know what I was doing. I actually did apply to the U of I but was rejected because I had filled out the application wrong. Oh well.

When I look at my students now, I can understand how little they know about the whole process. And I try to help. And while I can't go back in time and choose to attend school in California or Vermont or Colorado, I can push my students in those directions. Maybe they'll still choose badly, but hopefully they won't say "I don't know" when they're asked about their major life choices.


PiledHighandDeep said...

When I talk to kids about college, I make sure they consider the financial aspect. Though we'd all love to say "go wherever your heart takes you!", if the kid's going to have to take significant loans, they should really, really consider the state schools. I'm sure that lots of your students qualify for financial aid, but increasingly these days, aid is loans, not grants or scholarships. The repayments are tremendously burdensome.

State schools, in most states, are terrific values, offer more choices in majors and better assistance to students with special needs, like LD problems.

Anonymous said...

Even with out-of-state tuition, my state school in Washington cost less than the in-state rates of the University of California. It's great that you are encourging these kids to think outside of the box. I applied to a couple of schools nearby by dream college -- University of Washington -- and am so glad I did! When I got my rejection from UW, it led me to WWU which was a much better fit for me. I would have been unhappy at a school with 40,000+ kids in a new city and state. Sometimes the pressure is so great, too, that kids think they need to go to some special school to end up where they want in life. But, it actually requires hard work and determination, not just a degree from this or that university. I ended up doing exactly what I wanted professionally, even though I didn't get into a school that seemed to be better from the brochure.


Mrs. P said...

I think it's great that you're just encouraging your students to go to college. Most of your students may not have anyone pushing them at home and you may be their only reason to apply to ANY college.

I, like you, had parents that didn't go to college and they never really pushed the college thing at home. I, consequently, waited almost 5 years after high school to go to college and regret not going right away. I wish that someone at my school would have just taken the extra time to explain how the whole college process works.

Kudos to you for taking the extra time to show these kids that there is a way out.

mr. christian said...

But if you knew why you went to NIU, what would you say?

appopt said...

You learn well, grasshopper ...

The Mom said...

I read somewhere that it's not just the school, it's the fit. So, tell students to look at the shoes and clothing of the students there. If it "fits" your personal style, you've found a school you can also call home.

Anonymous said...

If I had a child I would tell them go for the place that steals your heart. If you fall in love with the school you are likely to give it your all. When I went to visit Cornell I did not just feel a tremendous connetion to what I'd like to learn and become but I felt at home. When I go back and visit today, I still do... Anything is possible... really- really reach for your dreams...
Senn Graduate 2002