Take My Advice?

I recently caught myself being one of those annoying people who offer advice without being asked. Twice over winter break, I ran into former students who are now seniors (apparently, Target and Panera are the places to be seen around here) and, of course, I couldn’t stop myself from asking about college applications, the go-to small talk topic when you haven’t seen much of a kid since she was a freshman. Each girl was sweet and feeling relieved that she’d already hit the final “send” button. That’s when I launched into my comedy routine about college applications being less of a competition and more like dating.

Here me out. A lot of kids look at college apps as an endurance race, traversing rugged terrain and stepping over lesser competitors (students) on their way to snap the victor’s tape and grab that trophy (an acceptance letter). I think, though, that the system is more like dating. Instead of obsessing about snagging that one hottie with the body (the dream school), it’s better to realize that the ones who accept you and offer help (financial aid) are the ones that’ll probably be the better match for you.

Storytime: Back in college, there was this guy in sociology. Imagine George Clooney in his “E.R.” days but with blue eyes. Holy hell. I barely knew him, but knew enough to nod a stunned “yes” when he asked me out. On our first date, my nervousness about sitting across from Mr. Male Model evaporated as I realized that this guy had nothing interesting to say. We’re talking the intellectual depth and conversation skills of a pancake. I did the conversational heavy lifting over dinner and realized this “dream guy” was a terrible match. We did go out one more time (I mean, come on now, did you see the pictures on that link? Whoa.), but it was still so. awk. ward.

Anyway, I worry that college might be like that for some of my students. Let’s say a kid has dreamed all her life about some prestigious Brand Name School and basically broken her spine in high school to make admission happen. She’ll be so happy driving up to campus in September yet may grow so miserable come October when she realizes she’s in a four-year relationship with someone who doesn’t really “get” her at all.

So, high school seniors, take some advice – a rejection letter from your dream school might just be a blessing in disguise.

WordsToLiveByThese two holiday run-ins also reminded me of Rudyard Kipling’s “If” and Polonius’ monologue from Hamlet, where two dads have lots of advice for their sons. I stitched these two together with newspaper columnist Mary Schmich’s viral graduation remarks into a compare/contrast lesson, “Words to Live By.” I’ll use this as an end-of-the-year activity with my freshmen (for a twist, they’ll also give middle-aged me some life advice), but the lesson could work anytime of the year. Hope you check it out.

Okay, that’s enough wise saws and modern instances for now. Teach on, everyone!

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