Listen to “College Word Association – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.
“It’s 7:20! Why are you still asleep?!” I say flipping on the lights and opening the blinds.
“My alarm didn’t go off,” mumbled my daughter from under three sheets and four stuffed animals.
“What?! I can see your clock says, ‘snooze!’”
“I didn’t do that…”
“Whatever! Now you aren’t just lying in bed. You’re just straight up lying. You’re sleeping outside tonight, and the sun can be your alarm. Get up!” (You know. The way you talk to a child.)
I’m not saying I am proud of the threat to sleep outside, but I thought the lying pun was pretty good.
You, on the other hand, are not 10. And unless you are a ridiculous multi-tasker, you are not asleep. You are a high school student thinking about college, so don’t hit snooze here. Instead, flip on the lights, open the blinds, and let’s play a quick word association game.
(Do not skip this or skim down the page.) Write down, voice record, or type out the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the word “college.”
Now (again, no skimming, skipping, or snoozing), ask one or two people you know who are either in college or who have graduated from college to give you five words and write those down.
OK. I’m going to trust you to stop reading here and complete the assignment. Come back when you have your answers and those from the folks you talked to.
And We are back…
What did you get?
Having asked this question around the country in various cities and school communities, particularly when parents are in the room, the responses are usually extremely hopeful, relational, open, and life-giving. I see a lot of smiles and hear answers centering around friends, fun, travel, sports, and learning.
Ok. Now I want you to write down or think quickly about the first three to five words or phrases that come to mind when you read or hear the words “college admission.”
How do your answers compare?
The students and families I’ve spoken with typically come up with words like tests, stress, tuition, pressure, and deadlines.
Boo!! Who popped the balloon?! What happened to the fun, friends, growth, learning, freedom, and opportunity of college itself? My challenge to you (especially if you are a junior or sophomore just really starting to think about college) is to keep your answers as closely connected as possible. Here is how.
Change One Word.
Traditionally, when journalists and college reps talk about admission, they describe it as a process. I want to push back on that concept. Take a minute and search Google Images for the word “process.” (Yes. I seriously want you to take out your phone and do this.)
So, what did you find?
Probably a lot of flow charts, cogs grinding together, and mechanical, sterile, linear graphics. Notice that almost none of them include other people– unless there is some lonely dude in a lab coat closely examining some colored liquid in a test tube.
If you think of all of this as a process, you begin to believe there is a specific and right way to go about it. Your mindset becomes linear or binary or zero sum. Process tightens you up and restricts you to a narrow path that you feel like you must follow perfectly in order to avoid disaster.
Process dictates each piece must fit perfectly and flow precisely from one thing to the next. And then life happens. You make a B+ instead of an A in that history class sophomore year; you don’t get elected president of the French Club; you tear your ACL and can’t play soccer on the travel team; the research project gets canceled; or I don’t know, let’s pick something arbitrary… say a global pandemic.
If this is a process, then you absolutely should or should not “do this the way your older sister did.” Process is filled with don’ts. Process is a tightrope. Process means if you miss a certain ingredient the recipe is a bust. There is absolutely no room for risk, variance, or divergence.
Now take a minute to search Google Images for “experiences.”
The College Admission Experience
What do you find? And how does it compare to “process?”
These images are more open, fluid, and relational. In these pictures you find people looking out over high places considering their options. They have vision, variety, perspective, and freedom. The people in these pictures are not trying to control each and every moment. In fact, they seem to be excited about the unknown as opportunity to explore, learn, and discover. There is no forgone conclusion, precise end result, perfect formula, or exact combination.
Experiences images are filled with boats in the water or bikes on the trail. Experiences facilitate relationships, inspire dreams, and account for a breadth of decisions, routes, choices, results, and destinations. It sure sounds like we are back to where we started with the answers to association with college.
The truth is that done well the college experience and the college admission experience should be more similar than different. Whether you are a junior, sophomore, or a parent supporting a high school student considering college, my hope is that you take time regularly to pause and check in to see if your five words associated with college and college admission are aligned or divergent. If stress, tests, control, and pressure creep in too much, it is a good sign you need to recalibrate and regain perspective.
How to do that? Might I suggest sleeping outside!