I work in a college town, a college town that I love. The parents are faculty, the kids were raised to be Cougs fans and yet, even in this university-centric town, my students can’t tell an R1 from a comprehensive, let alone a public land-grant institution from a private Jesuit school.
I was in the same boat. In 2003, when I began seriously contemplating my choices for where to further my education, I knew that there were different schools, but I had no concept of how their differences would affect my education.
I applied to the University of Washington and Western Washington University, due to their status as public in-state schools that weren’t too close to my hometown of Spokane. I was accepted to both, and couldn’t decide. In the final days before I had to commit, I went to my favorite teacher to see what insight he might have. I asked Mr. Rye where I should go, as a normally independent sort of student, I think he was surprised at my question.
With a raised eyebrow he asked, “You really want to know what I think?”
“YES,” I said.
“You’ll be much happier at Western.”
That was all I needed to make a choice, and I was happy! Looking back, I wonder how would I have known that if not for a teacher that knew me well? (By the way thanks, Mr. Rye!)
The bottom line is that I wouldn’t have.
How many of our students are going to end up attending a specific college because of that school’s football team, or a friend, or pure dumb luck? At eighteen you are asked to make some big decisions, choosing a) whether or not to go to college and b) what school will be the right fit for you. I believe it is up to communities to arm students with the knowledge they need to make a better choice. With the costs of college skyrocketing, the fact that universities are no longer cornering the market on knowledge, and our country’s increasing need for skilled workers, we must assist students in making smart decisions for their future.
I’m calling for teachers, especially in secondary, to not leave the learning about higher education to the high school and beyond plan, college fairs, NCAA March Madness, or John Belushi. It’s time to ensure that students are receiving high-quality information about the types of paths they could take, from adults they trust.
As a high school chemistry teacher, I spend my days with college-bound juniors. So this is my second year in leading students on what I call the College Quest. On Fridays, when we have enough time, I break down the types of schools that are available to students. Each session looks at local-ish schools in different categories such as research, comprehensive, private, trade, gender-specific, tech-focused, community colleges, and other options beyond/before college.
Here are some resources to get you started:
My Intro Spiel
Going on College Quest means being mentally prepared. I have found that students get majorly stressed when discussing their plans beyond high school. I like to preface our journey with the pointers below.
- The biggest decision you must make when determining where is right for you is the choice to be happy. Choose to make friends, be open to new experiences, and continue to learn. That’s the number one secret of feeling content with your decision, seriously.
- The path to a career is not linear. I know that you have this idea that you pick something to major in, get that degree, and then get a job in that field, where you can then climb the rungs of that ladder. It is okay to not have a plan, just ensure that you care deeply about whatever you are learning.
- It is okay to change your mind, take a year off, transfer schools, etc. etc. As a high school senior, adults will ask you two questions 1. Where are you going to school next year? And 2. What are you going to major in? These are just adults asking the questions we have been trained to ask. By no means should you take this as any sort of signal that you need to figure out your major, now.
What’s Out There
Some basic info, that even you might need to brush up on! A must on any list are HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and HSIs (Hispanic Serving Institutions.) I also like to present the non-college options as equal to attending school right out of high school.
- The College Board’s Slideshow of Types of Colleges
- US News & World Reports on Non-College Options
- The Seattle Times’ List of Washington State Colleges and Universities
Who Can Help
In Pullman, we are lucky to have the nonprofit, Palouse Pathways, to host workshops, come into classrooms, and even put on mock college interviews. Their information is applicable to anyone in the US though. I have found other state and national groups that are doing good work in this area. If you know of one that I did not add, please let me know in the comments.
- Palouse Pathways with Links for College App Timelines, Paying for College, etc
- The College Success Foundation of Washington State
- College Access Now – for Low-Income Students in Seattle
- Year Up – Providing a Way to Close the Opportunity Gap for 18 – 24 Year Olds in Seattle
I know that many other teachers are engaging in bridging students to college and careers. I would love to hear how you do it. I hope that together, we can make planning for graduation more than a series of boxes to be checked but a path we can help them light.
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