This kind of student is pretty much my ideal. She’s engaged and thoughtful, excited about her future, and not doing things just to impress other people. That’s a tough position to hold as a 17-year-old, and I was really struck by her maturity and self-awareness. I told her what I tell all my students at the beginning of the college application process: what happens over the next year is your choice. You can get caught up in what other people are doing and where other people are applying; you can add one more school in September, and October, and – the horror! – November; you can treat applying to college like playing the lottery, and keep buying more and more tickets, even though every ticket represents a few more essays and another $75 application fee. Or you can challenge yourself sanely, apply to a small, thoughtful list of colleges, start early and work gradually, and know that the success of your college experience is ultimately about what you do while you’re there.
It’s easy to forget that this process is ultimately a choice, that you can choose how stressful or how relaxed it is, that the results are pretty much the same either way. After five application seasons, I’ve had kids tell me that they wish they hadn’t applied to so many schools, that getting so many no’s was harder than they expected, even though they knew it was a long shot. But I’ve never had a kid tell me that they wish they had applied to more schools.
In the same way, every person I’ve interviewed for “When I Was 17” has told me that they wish they had paid less attention to what other people thought of their choices, whether college or major or career. How they wish they had taken it less personally when things didn’t go the way they wanted them to. How they wish they had worried less about knowing exactly what was going to happen next. So whether you’re in high school, college, or living your grown-up life, it’s your choice. And if I have to decide between fear and stress and doubt, or confidence and empowerment, that choice pretty much makes itself.