(This essay first appeared on The PediaBlog on August 8, 2016.)
Attention high school students — this PediaBlog is for you!
Whether you are a rising high school freshman or a rising senior, dominating the process of college admission should be in the front of your mind. And it is a process that requires your attention, your parents’ support, and your time.
Rising Freshmen: You’re just about to start 9th grade — one of the most difficult transitions you will ever go through. Everything is changing around you: probably a new school building, new faces, changing bodies (some of you have completed puberty, some of you are barely starting), maturing minds (puberty changes the brain in many ways — how you think about things, how you organize things and think ahead, how you manage relationships, and more), and a dramatic change in what is expected of you academically (acquiring information is now more and more your responsibility, not your teachers’). Look around you on your first day of high school. You’ll see plenty of fresh faces, lots of old faces that have changed (matured), and the faces of your friends since elementary and middle school who are your close friends now but may not be when you graduate in four short years. People who you notice now to be geeky or weird or outgoing or popular may be your friends now, but you’ll have a lot of additions and subtractions to that important “friends” grouping by the time you leave high school. Also on the first day of 9th grade, everyone is nervous! Don’t believe it if someone says they aren’t. They are! You’re probably now in a bigger school building and you are going to get lost! Take that as a given. Things will be better in a day or two as you learn where things are and you establish your place at the lunch table.
This is the point in your school career where you should begin thinking about whether or not you want to go to college after you graduate high school — again, in four very short years. The alternative to college, if you haven’t figured it out, is working. A job. To pay for food, shelter, and the luxuries of modern life you’ve grown accustomed to. It’s not a complicated question to answer: College or employment? It’s okay if you aren’t sure yet, but it’s not okay not to start thinking about it and talking it over with your folks. It will be really important by the end of this school year as you pick your classes for 10th grade and consider your plans for next summer. One more thing: If you have an older sibling who is going through the college decision-making process, pay attention! You can learn a lot by watching your brother or sister manage the process by going on college visits with them or at least being part of the family discussion about their experiences.
There are, of course, two other options for students after graduating. The first is job training for careers in skilled (often highly skilled) and well-compensated trades. Students considering this path will want to pursue vocational training through the “voc-tech” program offered by the high school. Second, enlistment in one of the military branches can also provide excellent opportunities for educational and vocational growth for high school graduates.
One other piece of advice, regardless of which path you take: Become interesting and curious (if you aren’t already). Learning is lifelong — it doesn’t stop at the doors of the school building. Keep wondering and asking questions. You’ll learn more by listening rather than talking, so be respectful of yourself and others and be patient. Become critical learners and consider the credibility of information sources. Be skeptical, yes, but not cynical. And try to stay positive, please. Most people on this planet are actually good and kind, and they don’t have enough space between their ears to accommodate and process all the negativity they see and hear in the modern world, so they will disregard it — and you — from their existence. That’s just human nature.
One final plea as your doctor, your neighbor, your fellow traveler on this shining ball of blue in black space: understand science. You don’t have to like it — biology, chemistry, physics, may not be your cup of tea academically — but there are a few basic concepts and laws of nature that you must learn and allow to occupy at least part of your developing worldview.
Can you answer this question: “Do I want to go to college after high school?” By the end of this coming school year, you really should have the answer.
Tomorrow: It’s your turn sophomores!