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Of Colleges and Cheeseburgers

This is a segment from Dr. Thom’s Medium post Three Fears About Applying To College and How To Address Them.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Socially, the college search is a highly visible process, with everyone seemingly in on the culturally acceptable two-part question that every high school senior in America gets asked: “Where are you going to college and what do you want to major in?” I call these the family reunion questions. If you dare to answer the first part of that question, it feels as if you are putting yourself out there, because what if you don’t get in? Everyone will know and how awful would that be? In my dissertation research, we found that over 58% of high school juniors indicated that not getting into their top choice college was a major source of stress in their college search.

The headwater of this fear is a dysfunctional belief I call the “true love college,” in which young people are advised to visit various college campuses and to listen closely to the winds as inevitably one of them will whisper, like the cornfields to Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams. A lone sunbeam will illuminate their path as various woodland creatures gather around their feet and birds to their shoulder. And no, there will be no rain this day, but if it must, it rains Skittles.

It is my experience that buying into this myth is often troubling for young people. When kids fixate on one college, they lend their fate to that college, their future held in escrow by an admissions committee which is, I can confidently say, made up of people. Wonderful, hard-working, but most certainly, human people, just as full of flaws and mistakes as anyone else. Just ask the admissions committee who denied Warren Buffett.

So how do we rewrite this dysfunctional script? With cheeseburgers, of course.

Colleges are like cheeseburgers. You can find them all over the place, and there’s a lot of core similarities to them, but the magic is in the diversity. The bun, the burger, the cheese, the toppings — oh so many toppings. There are regional varieties, variations to suit all kinds of tastes and needs from gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options; it’s amazing. And yes, there are those who scream loudly about some notion of a “classic cheeseburger,” or perhaps argue that a cheeseburger isn’t truly great unless it costs an absurd amount of money, but we know better. The beauty is in knowing what kind of cheeseburger you like and being unapologetic about that. And if a college won’t serve you their prestigious brand of cheeseburger, go find a cheeseburger at another place that will appreciate you. They’re all delicious.

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