Column: Let’s talk about college

Vivian Zhao, Editor in Chief, Editorial Editor, Columnist

Growing up, my trajectory before 22 was certain. Anything past that fell victim to my imagination. 

At eight, I yearned to become the next J.K. Rowling, though I’d never read Harry Potter. Shortly after that, I dreamt of living in the 1800s, like Jo from “Little Women,” despite nonexistent womens’ rights. I vaguely remember the desire to be an astronaut, which quickly dissipated due to my frequent motion sickness.

One thing was certain: I was going to college. 

In elementary school, I merely accepted it. Everyone I knew had attended university. In fact, a popular question to ask recent high school graduates was which college they planned to attend. 

As years passed, I looked forward to it: the opportunity to concentrate my classes in areas of interest, the independence of living in dorms, tight-knit friendships with my roommates. In a way, it represented a transition into adulthood.

Central has been wholely supportive on this front, prioritizing its students’ college readiness. 

We’re encouraged to meet with our College and Career counselors; the corresponding center is filled with books to prepare for standardized testing. A few days ago, counselors walked seniors through Naviance, explaining how to request transcripts and letters of recommendation. 

In just six months, a map will hang in the hallway for my class sticks their names in the states they’ll spend the next four years in.

The approach of college applications has solidified this reality. 

My friends complain of countless essays and the approaching November deadline. In class, students ask one another about the colleges they’re applying to. Oh – our upcoming assignment in AP Lit? A personal essay – and for most, their Common App. 

And as a growing amount of attention is placed on college, students tend to feel more pressure, anxiety, and stress.

Even after decisions are released, many will discuss the colleges others plan to attend. Some at Central dub the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign “Super Central,” referring to the high amount of students that attend after they graduate. Though the nickname has a negative connotation, UIUC itself is an excellent and cost-efficient option.

Nor does the college one attends define their self worth. A lower admission rate doesn’t speak to one’s potential. And there’s much more to a person than where they get a degree – or if they get one at all.

Yes: right now, college is one of my primary concerns. But I’m well aware that, for many others, it isn’t.

There are a variety of reasons why a student wouldn’t choose to attend college following high school. 

Perhaps they don’t need a degree to pursue their future career or the high cost of student debt has encouraged them to find an alternative solution. 

There are jobs that don’t require a college education, yet offer financial stability. A teacher has once joked that her plumber is paid more and does not have a degree. I’ve heard of non-profit programs where one learns to code outside of college, with attendees claiming positions at well known Silicon Valley companies.

Ultimately, the decision is in the student’s hands. A future with or without a degree does not make one less respectable, nor does the college one attends speak to their worth. 

And though I’m familiar with Central’s vigor in preparing students for college, I don’t know how the school addresses students that plan to pursue a different path. 

Do we focus as much on other post high school options as we do on SAT prep, Naviance and college visits? 

It’s my hope that there is as much for these students as there is for those that are college-bound. 

After all, high school is not a stepping stone to college, rather one to future success.