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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

No You Will Not Just Know The Right College

Do you believe in love at first sight? The idea that through some rapid inspiration of mystic striking of Cupid's arrow that our fog gets lifted and we hear our heart's desires clearer than ever before. Indecision is wiped away and the person who stands before us is the one.

So romantic, right? So very comforting too. You'll just . . . know.

Though I have never been a big believer myself in the idea of love at first sight, I can certainly understand its appeal. Out of all the millions of people, you will meet that one person and just know. What's not to like about that? I just don't think it's real. What's more, I think it is quite a dangerous expectation for someone to be walking through life, waiting to know.

The Greeks, who are largely credited with first articulating this kind of swooning condition understood it a bit differently than the current Hallmark card versions. They viewed love at first sight as a kind of hysteria, a theia mania or a "madness of the gods" that was at once crazed and immediate. Words like lovestruck or smitten relay the idea of the person being metaphorically hit with emotion while infatuation is derived from the Latin word infatuatus meaning "to make a fool of."

In our culture, this "madness" of first sight knowingness is applied to all kinds of major moments in life, from what kind of professional work will make you happy, from where to live, and yes, what college you should attend.

The advice that is prominently given to prospective students sounds like this: "Visit lots of colleges, and when you find the right one, you will know." Somehow the winged college Cupid will cast his arrow and poof! The weather will be perfect, the tour guide will be clever but still studious-cool, no one is stressed out, and all manner of flora and fauna seem to surround you like you're Cinderella on a segway tour.

The danger of this kind of myth is that students never learn that major life decisions require tradeoffs, pros and cons, and considerations of risk. Sure, a student might fall in love with a college and believe it is the "one" - but what if that college isn't financially ideal for her, putting her at risk of starting her young professional life under the crushing weight of student debt?

This myth exists as a kind of decision-making escapism, a daydream born from the anxiety of selecting from a seemingly endless array of choices. There seems to be an overwhelming selection of colleges, all describing themselves as "beautiful campuses with amazing professors and engaged happy students." Let me be quite clear, emotion and creating some mental shortcuts in decision-making are both highly important in sifting through all of these various choices. However, choosing well in the adult world requires a great deal of self-reflection as you push yourself to determine what you really want from your life. You are forced to imagine your future within the context of each choice, taking stock on your emotional reactions to those choices, and playing out the next two or three dependencies of each choice. This is intimidating and instead of putting in that work, we put our faith in the comfort of "just knowing."

I am a big believer in allowing young people to feel the weight of the crown of adult-decision making while they are still at home and in high school. Like teaching them to drive, you as the parent are next to them, providing them real-time coaching as they practice weighing the tradeoffs of the various college choices. Sure, they may struggle, but they will emerge confident and better able to manage the hundreds of mini-decision that will shape their lives. This confidence is the real product of the college search. All the rest is just marketing.

Not a GEC member? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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