I have traveled extensively throughout the United States and overseas. At last count, 45 states, five continents, and 138 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Beyond that I have always loved looking at maps, studying American history, and can generally hold my own at Tuesday Night Trivia when geography questions come up.
However, a few years ago I visited Minneapolis for the first time. I flew in late and woke up early to run through the city before the day got rolling. At the hotel’s front desk, I asked for a recommendation on a good route to get a sense of the area. “Oh. Of course. I’d recommend the ‘Bridge Run.’ It’s about six miles and crosses the river four times. I think you’ll love it.”
I honestly pray the hotel did not have a camera on the front desk that morning to capture the next part of our exchange.
“Oh, great. What river is it?”
Honestly, I thought she was going to rattle off some obscure name that I may have vaguely heard mentioned or seen once randomly on a map.
Now I am pretty sure I held it together in the moment, but it was all I could do to bottle up the simultaneous combination of embarrassment and shock that ran through me.
“Perfect,” I stammered and headed quickly for the door.
Arguably our nation’s most famous river, I’d crossed the Mississippi many times— I even swam in it once–granted a few thousand miles south. How could I not realize this is the state where it starts?
The run across the bridges at sunrise that day was breathtaking. By the third crossing I had transitioned from being flummoxed and embarrassed to laughing about it. I texted my wife (who lived there for five years) a picture from the middle of one of the bridges: “Mississippi River runs through Minneapolis…who knew?!” Five minutes later she replied, “Everyone but you, apparently.” Ouch. Insult to injury.
I am guessing you can think of a similar situation or revelation–something you read, heard, or learned that changed your view, challenged your assumptions, or expanded your understanding of someone or something (If you can’t, start reading more and hanging around different people).
In many ways, my experience in Minnesota is illustrative of the limited and misinformed perspective most people have on both college and college admission. They have some exposure but lack the full picture. They rely on personal experience and are so heavily influenced by social media or what they hear and observe in their small circle, that their view is understandably narrow–a condition, whether it be in politics, public health, or another issue in society, that inevitably leads to poor decision-making and unnecessary anxiety.
Mind the Map
If you are a junior in high school, your job this spring is to work diligently to see a bigger, more accurate landscape of higher education, broaden your understanding of the amazing choices and options you have, and commit to navigating a unique path through your college admission experience.
Since traveling is limited right now in the pandemic, here are a few ways to get a sense of the landscape and ensure the “map” you are using is accurate:
1- Determine Your Starting Point
- Write down the names of the first seven colleges or universities that pop into your head.
- Now circle the schools that are in your home state; the colleges that a parent, sibling, or other family member attended; the schools that are nationally known in your favorite sport; and any that rhyme with Stanvard.
Are more than 50% circled? If so, welcome to Minneapolis! Hopefully, you see this as an opportunity to expand your horizons!
2- Survey Your Surroundings– find out where some people you know (or know of) went to college.
The CEO of your favorite national/international brand.
Your principal/ school head.
Your town/city’s mayor.
Two or three of your neighbors or parents’ friends.
Your favorite science or math teacher.
Your favorite history, foreign language, or English teacher.
Your favorite athletes.
The owner of your favorite local business.
Your favorite actor or musician.
A state or federal legislator you respect.
A famous person from your city or state.
What did you learn?
What surprised you?
Is there a college or university on the list you had not heard of before?
Patrick Winter, Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Services and Enrollment at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has a theory that if you were to throw a dart at a map of the United States, or enter coordinates into Google Earth and drop a pin online somewhere in this country, you would find a college within 100 miles where you could get in, meet a friend for life, engage with a professor who would support and encourage you, pick a major you would enjoy, and plug into a campus community where you could build a network and thrive during your undergraduate years and beyond.
- Give it a shot! (Just promise to be careful if you choose to blindfold yourself and throw darts.)
- After a selecting a random location, drop a pin on your house’s location, and draw that same circle within 100 miles.
What are your options?
What if we expanded that to your entire state?
Any state that borders your state?
Go online and search for the alumni magazine and student newspapers from some of those colleges you have discovered, or check out their social media accounts. These are great resources as you are researching, preparing to visit (virtually or in person), and ultimately before making a final college choice. In these publications, you will read countless success stories, relationships that started on campus, and interesting, caring faculty and staff who make that school an absolutely incredible environment to learn, grow, and explore. They’ll prove in both statistics and stories of students and graduates that the path to success and happiness goes through hundreds of campuses, rather than the ten or twenty most media cover ad nauseum.
4- Black Out
Give a parent or younger sibling a Sharpie and tell them to rip the cover off brochures that come to your house in the next month. Then ask them to use a Sharpie to black out the name of the college everywhere it appears.
How does not knowing the name of a college change your perspective or opinions?
How do the questions you ask change when you review colleges this way?
5- Stay Grounded and Take Flight
Watch and listen closely to the seniors this spring. You are going to see them deliberate over decisions that involve finances, distance from home, opinions of others, and a variety of other factors. Those who applied to a variety of schools in terms of selectivity and cost are going to have options. Ask the seniors you are close to what advice they would have based on their experience. And pay attention to what they are saying this fall as they head off to school – and as you are applying to schools too. Notice how stories and perspectives change. Their “dream school” or “top choice” from last fall or this spring is often not the same one they end up attending and loving.
Like college itself, the college admission experience is all about learning, expanding, researching, and being open to new ideas and possibilities. That takes paying attention, reflection, intention, and sometimes tension. Focus this spring on acknowledging what you don’t know and commit to listening, learning, and exploring. Enjoy the journey!