• Nicki M. Dakis

A Less Stressful College Plan

Years ago, while attending a college counseling conference, I received a piece of advice from the former Dean of MIT that I’ll never forget: Referring to a choice of college she said, “There is no such thing as a soul mate ”.

While students or parents may have a “dream school” in mind, the reality is that for any student there are many colleges that the student will be just as happy attending. While as a parent I understand wanting the best for our children, as a college professor I have seen what happens when students are put into a situation that they’re not academically or psychologically ready for. Colleges can’t seem to keep up with the number of mental health counselors needed on campus, and self-medicating to relieve stress has become dangerously popular.

I’ve taught several students whose college experience would have been much richer had they delayed or chosen differently.

Now more than ever, college choice should be a business decision and just one part of a student’s overall career plan. Before beginning a college search, students need to make a comprehensive list of priorities. For example, consider degree options, class size, direct access to professors, or internship and research opportunities. This list, along with location and campus culture, will help narrow down the list of options considerably.

Of course, attending a traditional four-year college directly after high school is not the only option. An increasing number of students are benefitting from a structured gap year. Examples of this can range from employment, enrolling in a post grad year at a private school, or travel programs. Furthermore, while a community college can be a practical choice for a lead-in to university, both vocational schools and community colleges also offer a wide variety of practical career options, either in the trades or for careers not requiring bachelor’s degrees.

There are many different paths students can take to achieve their goals. I favor the college experience as an invaluable opportunity to meet people with a variety of life experiences and perspectives. It is also the time for students to test independence and learn more about themselves. But with college costs being as high as they are, it is more important to look seriously at the cost versus benefit of your student’s options.

Education is largely about timing. There is an old saying…When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive. As parents, it’s important that we take a step back, forget about what others are doing, and work together with our kids to determine a path that is best for them.

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