OPINION: Is it too much to ask––”Don’t Ask About College Plans”?
One week from graduation, our Wilton High School senior intern Shelby Connor pens a column about questions many seniors dread hearing, and argues against publishing the annual list of students’ post-grad plans–something she says is the embodiment of our high-pressured town. Find out below if we take her up on her request.
Many high school students envision their senior year as their best year. Having almost finished going through it myself, I can attest that this holds true, yet also not so true. Senior year does promise quite a few perks to look forward to, and offers more freedom and fun than your previous three years of toil. However, your last year of high school also comes with plenty of pressure about what comes next.
Even if you’re not actively pondering the looming future as a student, reminders come in the form of frequently-asked “friendly questions” from family, friends, or even strangers. Which colleges are you looking at? Where are you going to college? or What do you plan on studying in college?
Obviously, these mean no harm and many of us, myself included, are guilty of college probing. But endless possibilities lie beyond the years of high school.
Oftentimes when adults encounter teenagers who appear to be 17 or 18 years old, asking about college is just small-talk tactic. However, divulging details of an uncertain future is anything but small to the teen being asked. Many may choose to attend college, but others opt to join the armed forces, take a gap year, do a post-grad year, explore a new place, or enter the workforce.
Each option is unique to the individual’s situation related to a diverse range of factors–wants, needs, passions, finances, and other complicated logistics. Ultimately, it should be up to the students to decide what information they do or don’t want to share, when they share it, and who they share it with.
People need to understand the immense pressures students feel throughout high school, especially as they near the end of the four years. Renowned researcher, Dr. Suniya Luthar studies the effect that affluent communities have on the children who grow up in them. In November 2017, she conducted a survey with over 1,200 Wilton High School students specifically about their lives in our town.
In March, Luthar presented the results to parents, portraying alarming levels of anxiety and pressure in students, something typically seen in high-achieving schools. Luthar highlighted the community’s excessive focus on achievements and the detrimental effects it can have on the college search process. She also noted that parents are often too focused on doing whatever is necessary to get their child into prestigious schools despite the child’s desire for less intense pressure.
Luthar also pointed out that students pressure each other through comparisons when it comes to academics and extracurriculars. “This panic about college–we adults need to look at that and say, ‘Is it worth it?’” Luthar remarked. She explained the importance of students being valued for who they are regardless of their material possessions, status, or career.
Instead of asking college-focused questions, perhaps transition into asking more inclusive ones. If you know that a student has a particular passion for something like science, writing, or theater, ask about that. Questions like these are usually welcomed enthusiastically. Just because attending college is the norm, it’s not the path that everyone takes.
As many people know, each June a “Post Graduation Plans” list is published through a variety of local news sources in print and online–GOOD Morning Wilton included. It contains the name of each student from the graduating class accompanied by their plan for the following year. A month prior to graduation, students, as well as parents/guardians of these students, receive an email about this list and how they would like to be listed on it. If they do not reply to the email, their assumed plans are listed. While a student can certainly opt out, it has the potential to lead to unwarranted judgment and inquiry from readers that may search the list for a particular name in a small, close-knit town like Wilton.
Of course, there are certain things that are made public on a weekly basis, such as real estate reports or the police blotter. This information is useful to citizens of Wilton for town commerce and safety reasons. On the other hand, while we as a community should be extremely proud of our students and their accomplishments, I do not understand the necessity of the “Post Graduation Plans” list.
It is all too often the source of unfortunate judgment and scrutiny of oneself and others. With a simple web search, anyone can locate it and access it at their leisure. I have witnessed parents and students returning to these lists immediately after publication, or even a year or two later, singling out an individual, making impolite comments about a school they are going to or not going to, or questioning an ‘undecided’ choice.
If you don’t know someone and wouldn’t randomly confront them in a grocery store to ask about their future plans, then why should you have unrestricted access to a document defining people through nothing more than a personal choice?
After speaking to students about their thoughts regarding this list, many felt that it embodies the essence of our high-pressure town and leads to unhealthy comparison and criticism.
“I understand the good intentions behind the list, but as one of the many who still doesn’t know where they’re going to school next year, I find it stressful. I think it just feeds into the culture of pressure and high standards in Wilton. It’s such an issue here,” says senior Ella Kinnersley.
Senior John Erardi feels similarly, as he considers those who choose a less conventional path than most Wiltonians. “I understand that it conveys a sense of pride towards students’ achievements, but things like these may make students who are going to work or taking a gap year think less of themselves given that going to college seems to be the norm in Wilton.”
Caitlyn Moody is yet another student who dealt with the overwhelming stresses of being a senior this past year and the uncertainty of what the next big step would be. “I think that the list is an invasion of our privacy and it also feels extremely impersonal. I don’t think it contributes to our education or the college process and it makes me feel uncomfortable. It definitely adds to the academic pressures and standards that are held in our town,” she conveys.
Ultimately, this list seems to do more harm than good and further infiltrates such dangerous “achievement culture” that Dr. Luthar discussed. A better option would be to do away with the list altogether or perhaps provide a list of post graduation plans without the names of students. After all, we are far more than a list that attempts to define us.
Editor’s Note: Shelby, we’re listening. We’re not ready to give up the list entirely, but we’ll make it optional for seniors to participate. Any seniors who wish to grant permission for GOOD Morning Wilton to publish their post-graduation plans should email ClassOf2018@goodmorningwilton.com. Confirmation MUST come from your school email account and be received by 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 21. Provide your name and what you’ll be doing after graduation, and if it matches the list provided by the school, we’ll publish your information on our post-graduation list.