College Scary?

College SafetyCollege is scary. For parents. For high school students applying. For students already enrolled.

It seems that every time I hear a news story about “college” lately, the undertone is fear. This was especially the case as I watched our local news one morning recently. The headline stories included: the stabbing of a student at a well-regarded local university and a murder in which a man shot his daughter to death, critically wounded his wife, and then killed himself. The reason for the latter has been alleged to be financial strain – including upcoming college tuition bills; his daughter was a high school senior heading to college next year.

In international news, compliments of NPR, I read about the New Zealand 19-year-old who auctioned her virginity online claiming she “was desperate for money to pay university fees.” Prostitution is legal in New Zealand, and she fetched $ 32,000.

Less extreme, perhaps, but ever present at this time of year are stories of high school seniors receiving admissions rejection letters and disappointment over financial aid packages and the frantic appeals that each trigger.

In the midst of all of this, college counselors – both school-based and private – are supposed to get high school juniors and their families excited about the idea of going through this apparently frightening – sometimes even life-threatening – rite of passage. Something doesn’t jive.

I’m left with such a sense of bewilderment that I don’t know where to begin teasing apart the madness. My egalitarian heart still holds on to my conviction that every capable young person should be able to pursue higher education. No matter how scary it may seem socially, emotionally, or financially, they should have the opportunity to give it a shot. On the other hand, my practical mind reminds me that there are many paths to higher education and that taking a path that is well-suited to the individual can, and should, make the whole process of applying to, paying for, and completing college less scary.

My heart and head aside, experience has taught me that college is not “one-size-fits-all.” Unfortunately, our collective societal mentally has pushed students and families to believe that a 4-year, top tier college experience is the measure of success. Success is measured by what one does with the opportunities presented to him – not by where those opportunities occur.

As someone who counsels families through the college process, I want to stop the madness and take the “scary” out of the application process. And somehow my colleagues who still work at higher education institutions, parents, and the students themselves will have to figure out how to take the scary out of being in college.

Are you scared? How so? Let us know…


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