The College Conversation: Graduates embarking on challenging but wonderful journey

As the 2010-11 academic school year comes to a close, congratulations to the seniors as they make preparations for the next phase of their lives.

High schools throughout the county will advertise where their graduates are headed, often touting the most prestigious brand names, while minimizing the lesser-known colleges.

Private high schools tend to tuck this list in marketing materials so that prospective parents can evaluate whether an education at that particular high school will give their child a leg up. Many of you will review those college names to evaluate your child's high school's "success" rate.

Yet my hope is that when the chatter among your friends ensues, you will see that beneath the surface of the bumper sticker proudly adorned on their cars was a decision that did not come lightly.

While you analyze and make judgments about a student's decisions to remain close to home or study out of state, I picture these young adults conquering some of their biggest fears in the Big Apple, Windy City or the country music capital.

With my clients, there is definitely a personal story behind each final decision our seniors made. There was deliberate thought and an overriding emphasis on finding the right fit. This year, a college's student population of 5,000 felt too small to some, too big to others and just right for many. The bustle of urban life appealed to most, and the solitude of nature beckoned a few. Most will enter college with an undeclared major and a desire to reinvent, rediscover and not repeat some of the mistakes they made in high school.

I picture some of them painting their bodies in their new school colors for Pac-12 football games and others not caring a bit about intercollegiate sports, making the conscious choice to immerse themselves in the arts instead. Films will be made, businesses invented, social issues argued. Countries will be visited, Ancient Greek will be decoded, organic chemistry conquered. Majors will be changed, roommate challenges overcome pounds of weight accumulated.

Some will reunite with a sibling who left before them, and others will feel homesick, dealing with the first time living away from home, away from everything they've come to love. High school friendships may grow, change or even end.

Faith in religion might be challenged and beliefs misunderstood. Perspectives will be broadened. Truths with be tested.

I envision these soon-to-be college freshmen learning more about themselves than they could possibly imagine. After all, these young adults are about to encounter more change over the course of a few months than most adults deal with over the course of a decade. Many will move to an area completely foreign to them — a place they've visited maybe once. They will live with a complete stranger, be forced to build new friendships, and handle a whole set of new responsibilities.

It's an exciting time.

I hope that you won't end the college conversation after hearing where your best friend's son is headed. Rather, deepen your own knowledge by questioning what really went into that final decision. I love reading between the lines of the college lists I see plastered on school websites and marquees.

The more diverse the list of colleges, the more time those students took to really find themselves in the college admissions process. To each his own, and I love that.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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