I encourage my students to build some variation into their college lists: big and small schools, local and out-of-state colleges, marine biology and journalism programs. Shockingly, teenagers are not robots and they often have evolving interests, goals, and ideas of themselves. So we kick the can down the road and leave that as a decision for the future. But today is that future, and now is the time they have to choose one of those paths, which can feel impossible. It’s not impossible because there are no good choices; it’s impossible precisely because there are many good choices, and we love, more than anything, to imagine what our lives could be like.
In 2017, Martin E.P. Seligman wrote in The New York Times, “We call ourselves Homo sapiens, the “wise man,” but that’s more of a boast than a description. […] What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. […] A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects.” Seligman is a professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania and an expert on Positive Psychology, and optimism and pessimism, and he argues that it is our ability to plan and to imagine the future that sets us apart from other species.
Getting to choose one of several colleges is a wonderful problem to have. It allows you to envision yourself in different environments, with different friends, as different versions of yourself. Maybe you’re at a college by the ocean and you become an avid surfer, starting every day with the waves and a breakfast burrito. Or maybe you’re studying computer science, spending your weekends networking at hackathons. Or maybe you’re living in a big city, having debates about your philosophy homework at a hipster coffee shop.
Channel your inner Homo prospectus and envision yourself as different people in different places, and then choose the one you feel the most excited about. And know that there is no wrong answer; you can be happy in lots of different environments. And this is by no means the last big decision you’ll get to make that shapes your life. So imagine all your different futures, choose wisely, and then start daydreaming about what comes next.