The Kids Will Be Alright

The time has come to break out “The Fiske Guide to Colleges” and the SAT practice books. It’s Upper Winter, and college is in the air.

With the Upper Parent College Kickoff Weekend bringing families to campus, college counseling meetings being scheduled and the January 28 SATs fast approaching, it’s hard not to think about college. Lunchtime conversations now often revolve around school choices. Students worry over their lack of leadership positions and their less-than-perfect grades.

When these topics come up, I always say the same thing: don’t worry so much.

Last week, Nicole Ng ’13 cautioned readers not to put undue weight on college. With a gaggle of seniors already admitted to some of the top schools in the country – not to mention the world – on top of intensifying parental pressures and presuppositions about academics and success, it’s a message we all need to hear. The trajectory of our lives won’t be defined by which school we attend, although it may seem like it now.

I would know. My family’s living proof.

Each of my parents comes from very different worlds. My mother grew up in a middle class family in a suburb of New York City and, after graduating from Phillips Academy in 1976, attended Yale. My father moved around a lot, jumping from one California coastal town to the next. He attended a public high school and, for financial reasons, never went to college.

Today, my parents co-own a local internet service provider in my hometown. My dad still doesn’t have a college degree. My mom has two. In the end, it didn’t make much of a difference.

My older brother currently attends a small liberal arts college as a sophomore. Initially disappointed with the school’s relatively low ranking and lack of prestige, he’s now having a great time. When my family brought up the possibility of transferring schools over winter break, he immediately shot the idea down.

If my family has taught me anything, it’s that college isn’t one size fits all. My mom was ambivalent toward Yale but went back to school at the University of California, Santa Cruz ten years after getting her first degree and absolutely loved it. When it comes down to it, finding a good college shouldn’t mean finding one with a low acceptance rate and a large endowment. It should mean finding a good fit. If we put our energy into doing what we love, into the things that made us stand out years or just months ago when we applied to Andover, we’ll be alright.

For the next year, college applications are going to dominate the lives of all the Uppers. We’re going to write countless essays, take multiple standardized tests, attend college counseling meetings and stress out about deadlines and rejections. Come September 2013, some of us will head off to Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Some of us won’t. And, for awhile, it may seem like the most important thing in the world.

Please trust me when I say it isn’t.

Annika Neklason is a new Upper from Santa Cruz, CA.