It’s late February, my daughter’s senior year of high school, and the tension about what college to attend for the next four years – (as well as what colleges will choose my daughter, and who will give her good money) – looms over us like the threat of the flu after sitting next to a sick passenger on a plane ride across the country.
Anyone we come in contact with seems to want to know: Where will our daughter be next year? And where does she want to go?
I went to the gynecologist last week. She asked me where my daughter wanted to go to college. “She doesn’t know yet,” I said pleasantly as my doctor performed a breast exam.
“No, but really,” my doctor replied. “What’s her first choice?”
“She doesn’t have one,” I said sincerely. The doctor didn’t seem to believe me.
I was at dinner with friends – not close friends, but people I enjoy getting together with a few times a year to catch up – and someone asked me what my daughter’s first choice was. I replied the same way. “She doesn’t have one.”
“No, but really,” the woman responded. “What is her first choice?”
As I mentioned, she doesn’t have one. Apparently, by now, she’s supposed to.
It’s not like we’re keeping her choice a secret from people. She’s just not sure yet. So far, she’s received offers from five schools, all with about the same amount of financial aid, all with opportunities for her, with interesting people to meet, study abroad programs, nice dorms, and her major and minor interests. She still has six schools left to hear from.
She’s visited many of these colleges to get a feel for them. We went on the spring break tours last year when she was a junior. We went on the summer tours between junior and senior years. Recently, she stayed over at one place with a current freshman, eating dinner at 10 p.m., talking with other girls on the floor until three in the morning. She liked it there. She might want to go there. Possibly.
Or she might not. Over spring break next month, we’ll visit three schools, and she’s staying over at one. Maybe on this trip, she’ll make a decision. Then again, even by the end of this trip, she may not yet have heard back from all of the schools she’s applied to.
Her senior class started a Facebook page: College Decisions 2016. Each student posts where they are going once they’ve committed. Quite a few kids, those who applied early decision, those who applied early action, those whose schools let them know early, those who have always had a “top choice,” have posted their exciting news. Each day a few more announcements pop up. My daughter reports to me – NYU or Rutgers or University of Wherever, she’ll tell me, along with the chosen major. Everyone else, it seems, knows where they want to go and what they want to do and the adults in their orbits expect them to know as well.
National Decision Day (which also happens to be her high school’s “Wear your Favorite College T-Shirt Day”) is May 1. Not until May 1 does she have to make a decision. And that’s okay. I don’t care if she makes a decision April 25. Or April 29. I don’t care if she wrestles with the decision for the next two months, either out loud or to herself, with friends or with me or online. But I want her to feel she’s making the right decision for her, regardless of how long it takes.
So the next time you think to ask a high school senior where he or she “wants” to go, consider again that not everyone knows. And it’s not always as simple an answer as you might think. And that’s okay.
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of three novels. Her essays and blog posts have appeared at Writer Unboxed, Beyond the Margins, Kveller and The Tablet. She is the mother of two girls and lives in New Jersey.
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