Since when did college change from spending four years of exploration to years of training for your first job?
When did high school change from “the best years of our lives” – ones filled with trials and errors – years of growth and change – to years of choosing only activities that will look good on a college application?
Back when I stepped foot on Syracuse’s campus in September of 1986 (yes, I am aging myself… Go Orange!) I had it all planned out. I was going to major in Retail Marketing. Yup, you read that right, Retail Marketing.
I was going to graduate from college and work in retail. There is nothing wrong with this career choice – I know some very successful people in the field – but I quickly learned that the major did not suit my personality.
Why do you ask? I HATE SHOPPING – always have, always will. Which begs the question, why did I choose that major?
Who knows? Was it that I once told someone I did not know what I wanted to do, and they said, well, you have always worked in retail, so go major in it? Was it that no one asked me about my strengths and weaknesses, topics I liked to learn about? Was it that someone told me that studying retail management would guarantee me a job upon graduation? Was it that I felt pressured to just… choose something?! I honestly don’t remember; all I know is that on my first day of classes, I walked into the Hall of Languages to take Retail Marketing 101 and knew I had not chosen the right course of study.
However, a benefit of attending a university with a core curriculum is that I was required to take courses that I had never even known existed. It led me to take a sociology class, and I fell in love with everything about it. So after long conversations with my parents about what I would do with a degree in sociology – which at the time, I had no clue – I blurted out that I could go to Law School, and without a moment to waste, they supported my decision.
Well, that did not happen. Senior year, I applied to ten law schools – got into a few – was waitlisted at one, and denied by most. I weighed my options and was all set to choose one of the three I was accepted to: I would be a lawyer. One April morning, I woke up and called my father and said, “You know what, you want to go to law school, not me. I don’t want to be a lawyer, and in fact, I don’t know what I want to do.” That was the hardest and best decision I think I ever made.
Back in the fall of 1983, the year I started high school, I would have never imagined that in the fall of 2021, I would be entering my 21st year of tutoring students and advising them on the college process, and loving what I do. How could I have known?
You can’t predict the future, and sometimes you need to trust your course. I didn’t know what I did not know, which led me to where I am now. My route here was far from straight, but I followed my Yellow Brick Road, which finally brought me back to my core (even if I didn’t know it at the time).
So instead of going to law school, I moved back home and found ANY job that would buy me time.
Fortunately, my roommate from college needed a roommate while I was thinking about applying for a degree in school psychology or social work. So without much thought, I applied to Penn and enrolled to get my MSW that fall.
Upon graduation, I worked for the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia before finding what I thought was my calling at Bentley University, working in the office of the Dean of Student Affairs. It was there that I fell in love with advising students and working with student-athletes, leading me to get my degree in education – which then led to my first job at a high school – which leads me to where I am today.
In 2019, when my daughter entered her first year at college, she asked me what she should major in. I simply said dabble. Try things, say yes to things, be curious. You will find your path, even if it takes several or even many years, with multiple attempts. I reminded her that she might hit a few detours along the way, but she could learn something at each roadblock and move on. She is now a junior and quickly learned that she no longer wants to be a doctor even though she loves sciences and is majoring in neuroscience. Like me, she took a chance on some courses and fell for a completely different path.
And as my high school junior scrutinizes what his course load should be for the next year or what he should be doing for extracurriculars, I remind him that it doesn’t matter as long as he is exploring and growing – learning about topics that he likes and does not like; and no, he does not need to stick with an activity he has been doing for years just because, and yes even though he has not taken music lessons since he was six, he can start piano lessons.
I love my job; I love the path that got me here – I genuinely do. And I tell my students this all the time. So, while my favorite song is “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” I encourage you to follow your own yellow brick road… and you know what? I still HATE SHOPPING!