College Preparation: How Soon is Too Soon?

As a current junior, I am confident I can speak for the rest of my classmates when I say that college is one of the many things constantly running through our minds. Teachers, parents, and guidance counselors have been pushing college preparation guides at us basically since we walked through the doors on the first day of school . . . stressing that it can never be too soon to start getting ready to make what could be seen as the most important decision in our lives. But when it comes to choosing your future career and college, can such a decision really be narrowed down at barely 17 years old?

I know that a few months ago, I could barely set my mind on what I wanted for lunch each day, nevermind nail down a concrete future. And with that said, seeing college brochures pileĀ up in my mailbox and e-mails pouring in from hordes of schools I’d never even heard of truly made me want to just pull the covers over my head and hide from the idea of college instead of embracing it. Posters advertising various career programs line the hallways at school, and college informational guides are splayed out everywhere you can imagine. It’s hard enough to focus on high school these days, with the immense amount of work and important assignments introduced to us each day, let alone let your mind wander to the distant future where colleges and careers are concerned. Yet according to many of the adults in our lives, we should be putting thought into the college process as often as we can.

Flashback to September and October — back to the days of the college mini fairs. For three consecutive Tuesdays, representatives from many colleges across the New England area set up smartly decorated tables throughout the cafeteria, fanning out informational booklets and laying out pens for hopeful students to give out their personal information. And then hundreds of juniors and seniors were herded into the cafeteria and, for the next 20 minutes, were expected to mill about and find their potential academic calling. Immediately, the indecisive student in me became overwhelmed by the chaos of the crowded cafeteria, and I scurried around collecting a brochure from each and every school available, worried that the one school I miss could be the one destined for me. And three mini fairs later, I now had an entire milk crate filled with informational booklets and brochures from more colleges than I could name offhand. But they were still just that — a crate full of brochures. I still could not single out among them the one college I was dying to attend. And in the months following, guidance counselors set to work, scheduling assemblies and appointments to help each of us juniors pinpoint the career path right for us. My parents also took on a fair share of the work, sitting me down and showing me documentaries about student loans and scheduling college visits over school vacations. And I can’t forget about the teachers — they all somehow manage to incorporate the word “college” into the curriculum even when it seems to have no relevance to the matter at hand.

The first few months of junior year seem to be more geared toward college prep than anything else. As soon as you step into eleventh grade, you are rocketed into a world of college lectures and online statistics, and the pressure is on for you to find your educational calling. There’s no doubt that this introduction to the college search is stressful. Adults and peers are constantly asking the question, “have you figured out where you want to go to school yet?” And until now, I would always answer tentatively. “Not really, I’m still looking!” Because the truth was, I hadn’t figured it out. Figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life and which college is going to take you there is a hard decision. Probably the hardest one I’ve had to make yet. But the real question is, are the efforts put forth by guidance counselors and parents helpful in this decision? Do their informational strategies help ease this stress-inducing process?

After months of college fairs, relentless emails, and parental pressure, I can finally say that I’ve begun to narrow down my college decision, finally beginning to see the career destined for me. And why? Because for the past few months I’ve been surrounded by nothing but ideas: ideas about college, ideas about careers, ideas about my future. Ideas that really helped me brainstorm and figure out my decision without even thinking about it, really. Months ago, back in September, I was annoyed by all of the college information being thrown at me by the guidance department. But now I realize that because I was introduced to that information, and especially because I was introduced to that information so soon, I was able to narrow down my decision quicker than I ever would have if not informed. The truth is, for these past few months my brain has been quietly working, quietly sorting through all of the information gathered from college letters and brochures and preparing me for this big decision without me even realizing. And though I’m not sure exactly where I’m going and what I’m going to do when I get there, I’m definitely a few steps closer.

Many of you juniors out there might know exactly what you’re meant to do. Many of you might be figuring out one step at a time, like I am. And for those of you who have absolutely no clue where you’re going, don’t worry. You’re not alone. But whether you realize it or not, you’re much more prepared for the college decision than you know. All of the efforts of the guidance department have not been for nothing. Though it seems like college is all anyone is pushing at you right now, you will be thankful once you finally figure out what college is right for you. College is undoubtedly one of the biggest decisions of our lives. And though it may seem silly to start thinking about something so distant in the future, the truth is that it really never is too soon to start planning. Graduation is coming whether you’re ready or not. When you finally figure out where you want to apply, it will no doubt be because of the hard work of those around you.

4 thoughts on “College Preparation: How Soon is Too Soon?”

  1. Choosing a college is definitely a stressful situation, and there’s a fine line between being well-informed and completely overwhelmed. Visiting some schools definitely helps you get a feel not just for that particular one, but for the type of campus you want. When I was deciding between several strong journalism programs back in my day, Iwas scared by the size of Syracuse University and nervous about Emerson College’s open campus in Boston. When I visited Fordham University in the Bronx, I immediately fell in love with the park-like campus only a short subway ride to an amazing city.

  2. I feel college is way more stressful than it has to be. But in the end I know ill be okay and get into a decent college.

  3. Don’t worry about figuring it all out at once. When you think about it, college is a one-year decision. If you feel you’re not doing well at the school you decided on, you can always go through the process of transferring. As far as deciding on a major, 75% of college freshmen change their minds after a year, so don’t be afraid to apply to a school with the box UNDECIDED next to your name. That’s what college is for when you think about it — figuring out where your talents lie, and then pursuing a career in that area. After you take your core classes, you can sit back and think about what you were most interested in, what you did well in, and then take it from there. Good luck!

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