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.