As I enter the college search process with my eldest child, I’m struck by how much more complicated the process seems than it did when I was in high school. This is partly because I’m not the one going through it now. It’s partly because, for many people, technology and cheap airfares make the world a lot smaller and therefore the college options more vast. Part of it is because I grew up in a fairly rural area where most of us didn’t know about a lot of the options outside a limited geographic area.
And Harold Thomas, our guidance counselor at Shamokin Area High School, did not help the situation.
Mr. Thomas (rest in peace) was a large man, with a voice that can best be described as “pinched.” (Imitating Mr. Thomas’ voice is still a major activity at our high school reunions.)
Mr. Thomas didn’t exactly see the world as filled with college choices.
In high school, we imagined that Mr. Thomas had a large wheel hidden somewhere in his office. Prior to walking into your meeting with him to discuss college options, Mr. Thomas would spin the wheel to determine where you would go.
If you imagine the wheel separated into 12 sections (think “Wheel of Fortune”), 5 of the sections were marked “Penn State – Hazelton Campus”, 4 were marked “Bloomsburg” (then a state college, now university), 1 was marked “other state colleges in Pennsylvania”, and 1 was marked “Penn State – main campus.”
If you suggested to Mr. Thomas that you might want to go to a school other than those on the wheel – say, Juniata, or Muilenberg, or Lafayette, or the Coast Guard Academy, or God forbid, Princeton – you were met with a quizzical stare that said, “Why would you ever want to do that?” And then, of course, if you actually wanted to pursue one of those “other” schools, you were pretty much on your own.
I have to say that, while the experience wasn’t terribly inspiring, it wasn’t terribly stressful either.
I see Emma, who is smart and mature and grounded and wonderful (and I’m, of course, not biased in any way) dealing with the dual pressures of seemingly unlimited choices, and worry that she won’t get into any of the schools on her list. And I know that her friends are going through the same thing too. Over the next year, we will explore options, visit Web sites and campuses, talk to people, look at brochures. Even though I’m “in the business”, I will experience it in a completely different way from the other side. It will be fun and scary. And at the end, she will land someplace where she feels like she is “home”, as I did when I visited Juniata for the first time, and as I did the four years that I was there.
I’m glad she has so many choices.
But maybe it was easier to just spin the wheel.