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Dear First Year College Self (College Conversation with Jessica Fowle)

Guest blogger Jessica Fowle, an independent college counselor, is back with more wisdom for my 2016 seniors and their parents as they head off to college this fall.   I love seeing all of the move-in pictures on Instagram this week.  New adventures await!
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Moving into college dormsIt is the end of August; students and parents across the country are gearing up for the school year and beyond. High school juniors are starting to think that this whole college search concept is getting pretty real. High school seniors have suddenly found “apply to college” in bold at the top of their to-do list. First-year college students are getting ready to embark upon this adventure for which they have been preparing since kindergarten. Needless to say, there is quite a bit of anxiety as well as excitement that acc
ompanies all three of these life stages. I have been working with a lot of clients lately who are at varying points in this transition, and it has me feeling reflective about my own journey at that time. Here are some insights I wish I could share with my younger self; perhaps you will find some kernels of perspective that apply to you:

 

Dear first-year college student Jessica,

You are so sure of what you know and what you don’t know. You know for sure that you don’t really like science or math. You know without a doubt that you want to study English, and for that reason, of course you will become a teacher (you aren’t inspired as a creative writer, so naturally this leaves teaching as the only other career path). You balk at the core curriculum requirements at your college that force you to take:

  • A science class (Geology, which will turn out toKalamazoo college first day of school
    be one of your favorite courses of your entire college career.)
  • A religion class (Classical Judaism, which you take pass-fail, and in which you find yourself lost in the storytelling abilities of one of the best professors at the institution, and that you often find yourself feeling grateful for when trying to understand the deep roots of the current geopolitical conflicts.)
  • A philosophy class (Biomedical Ethics, which puts you in a class where you are the lone English major in an ocean of anxious pre-med students. The topics of the class allow you to recognize and think critically about the issues facing healthcare providers and politicians as they wrestle with our imperfect healthcare system and, much later, debate the value of the Affordable Care Act. Your classmates give you valuable insights into how scientists approach issues of philosophy, and you find yourself learning from them while surprising them with the connections and cultural context that your knowledge of literature can bring to the conversation.)
  • A math class (Statistics, where you learn that math is, indeed, very applicable to the real world, and where you come to the realization that every fact presented in an article, conversation, political debate, or Facebook meme has a larger context, and can often be argued for the opposing viewpoint using the same data. This isn’t the most uplifting fact to learn, but it helps you to think critically about issues, policies, and decisionmaking—not just blindly accepting dramatic statements, as compelling as they may be.)
  • A computer science class (Intro to Programming, where you learn another language, a new way to communicate, a basic understanding of the platform underlying the technology that has become pervasive in both professional and personal life, in a way that you couldn’t imagine at the time)

All of the skills and perspectives you gained in these classes that pushed your comfort zone came with you into the subjects you eagerly approached: English, history, and Spanish. Developing skills as a writer and presenter, learning how to express an opinion or interpretation that is supported by other references rather than bald statements that sounded good to you, surprising yourself by how much you learned about English grammar while learning Spanish, and the delight you took in finding the universality of themes explored by both Victorian and contemporary authors, all coalesced throughout your four years.First day of college

That complete panic attack you are going to have during junior year when you realize that you do not, in fact, want to be a classroom teacher? Take a deep breath, it will be ok, even though you are now fearful about whether or not an English major can find post-graduate employment outside of the classroom.

first year in collegeFifteen years after graduation, you will have a moment where you realize that you have just spent the entire week at
your day job, writing a clearly put together user guide for a software platform implementation you are spearheading, and training your colleagues how to use it, while making complicated forms based on conditional logic. You are following your passion for college consulting in addition to this, and able to have a very intelligent conversation about the political issues arising in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Life will take you in unexpected directions. Try not to get caught up in what you definitely do or do not know, or what you definitely do or do not want to be when you grow up. Try to stay open to having your assumptions challenged. Find those opportunities to learn new things. Work hard. Be yourself. You are going to be just fine.

Love,

15 years out of college Jessica

 

college conversation with Jessica Fowle

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