Caroline Wilson is GOOD Morning Wilton‘s student contributor. A sophomore at Wilton High School, Wilson gives us her perspective on tomorrow night’s WHS College Fair. Starting at 7 p.m. in the WHS Field House, the College Fair will offer students from Wilton (and Ridgefield) and their families the chance to meet representatives from approximately 200 colleges and universities

Be forewarned, it gets crowded and hectic, enough so that the school runs shuttle buses for overflow parking at Cider Mill. Attendee parking is restricted to the South lot and Cider Mill; stopping and parking in front of the Field House and the WHS main entrance is not permitted. Parking in the North Lot (senior lot) is restricted to College and University Reps ONLY.

The upcoming college night at Wilton High School on Wednesday, Oct. 14 is just another reminder to high schoolers to start thinking about the future. As a sophomore, I’m going (by choice) to the event tomorrow night. Until now, shaking hands with college reps was never something I really pictured myself doing on my journey to become a journalist and, eventually, a high school English teacher. I thought I would just go to college, go back for grad school, get a job writing, and then “retire” and teach.

It’s something that doesn’t come up in your mind until you hit high school. I could ask my 13-year-old, 7th grade younger cousins at Middlebrook what they think about college, and their only response likely would be a blank stare paired with, “Caroline, college is so far away, I have so much time.”

Yet, if I ask any one of my high school friends, I’d probably get any number of more varied responses. From the moment you leave Middlebrook and enter high school, it’s ever-present on your mind.

For freshmen, who are so new, they still don’t know what to expect. After being thrown into a completely new environment, the idea of “their future” is thrust onto them as one more thing they should be worrying about. While half of them are still painfully stuck in the old ‘college-is-so-far-off’ mindset as a way of trying to hide from it, most of the rest of them are killing themselves over it, studying until the wee hours of the morning and sacrificing any shred of a social life for a quiz. A very small percentage are actually able to acknowledge it and work without stressing about it.

Sophomores, in their second year of this crazy high school ride, are really starting to feel the weight on their shoulders. They’re pressured to go to the college fair and start researching universities. Some might even use their spring breaks to go on tours, dragging along younger siblings who don’t realize this same thing might happen to them someday. The PSAT also starts to rear its ugly head as another reminder of what’s coming up.

The third year of high school, often thought to be the most difficult of them all, is also riddled with tests for college, most noticeably the PSAT and SAT. Juniors also spend many hours in the car, touring campuses weekend after weekend, trying to see which ones they can “see” themselves going to. In late spring, when most students are hunkering down to study for finals, some 11th graders are sitting in interviews that they’ve been rehearsing for hours. This is when their list of colleges is trimmed down to the ones they know they’re going to finally apply to in hopes they’ll get in.

By now, seniors are sending in their college applications far and wide, occasionally (ok… pretty often) “stretching the truth” on their essays. Some opt for the “early decision” route, submitting their applications as early as October. Those who don’t will mail them in for December or January deadlines. Then comes the wait…the unbearable, terrible, stressful wait for an answer. Whenever it comes, there will be tears, either of happiness, or sadness. Either way, at the end of the year, seniors will start packing up, shopping for necessities, and reassuring parents that they’ll call often.

Maybe because I have an older brother the concept isn’t so foreign to me. I remember being just 12 years old, looking through the massive book about colleges my parents bought for my brother, Chris, putting check marks next to the ones I thought were suitable for me (NYU, Boston College, Yale, and so on). And even though my brother and I are remarkably different in terms of our interests (he’s a math and business guy, great with numbers and people; I’m the walking thesaurus who can write for days but can’t add two and two without a piece of scratch paper), we always both knew we were going to college.

But what of the kids who didn’t go through this practice? There are always a few students who know that college isn’t what they want or need, which is understandable, considering the large number of options other than college from which to choose. Trade schools, the military, and service programs are all choices offered to students who decide not to apply to university. Some may take a gap year (a year in which students take a break from education) or a postgrad year (a year in which students formally study) before applying. Another route that is becoming more common is attending community college (such as the nearby Norwalk Community College) for a year or two prior to heading out to college.

All said, the College Fair is just another warning sign for high schoolers that there is a life beyond their ‘right now,’ and a flashback for parents, who once stood in their children’s nervous shoes. I urge anyone who has a high school student or older middle school student to go, so as to get the former interested in the types of schools out there and the latter a little more prepared for what’s coming up down the road.