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It’s okay to not have it all figured out.

As an admission counselor I get to interact with hundreds and hundreds of high school students. It can be really fun and refreshing to get to talk to so many kids who are in the process of figuring out who they are and who they want to be. It’s fun to be part of that process, to talk to them about their options and interests, and learn about where they might see themselves in the future. While it can be enjoyable for me to help students through this process, unfortunately it’s not always as enjoyable for the students themselves. I have increasingly seen the pressure students feel to have it all figured out by the time they are ready to apply to college. They feel they need to know exactly what they are going to be doing for the rest of their lives – what major they want to go into and what career path they want to take. I sometimes have a hard time being able to tell whether students really want to do what they say or if they feel they should have an answer to please the adults around them, such as parents and teachers.

This idea of having it all figured out can not only be a challenge in itself but can present a whole different type of challenge to certain populations of students, such as first-generation students. A lot of students have an idea of what interests them and possible career paths they may want to pursue from observing and interacting with the adults in their lives. One of the easiest ways for students to learn about possible professions is from their parents and parent’s friends. First-generation students are not always going to have this resource available to them, being that their parents did not attend college. They may belong to an environment that doesn’t easily provide these types of resources. However, the pressure is still the same – to have it all figured out by the time they are ready to go on to college.

This is a perfect time for us, as educators, to take a step back and not only think about the types of students we are working with but to also think about the advice we are giving them. We need to be able to provide them with a little bit of additional guidance sometimes, like talking to first-generation students about possible career paths and the necessary preparation for certain fields. We can’t take for granted that students always have access to mentors, professionals, and individuals that can help guide them in figuring out what they might want to do with their future. It’s also okay to probe a little deeper, to ask students where their interests come from and tell them that it’s absolutely okay if they don’t have a single clue as to what they want to major in or where they see themselves in twenty years. I don’t know how many times I’ve had that conversation with students and their families. Sometimes having it all figured out can take the fun out of the college experience itself. College should be a time for students to explore their interests and to have fun doing it. Most importantly, as educators we should be able to support that idea. We should be able to tell a student that it’s okay to not have it all figured out and we should be able to mean it.

By Maria Rodriguez