Déjà Vu All Over Again

As a self-described “recovering college counselor,” I have worked with hundreds of seniors over myLiberal-arts-education1 career, guiding them through the increasingly challenging admission process.  I love the process, although as my older son reminded me, “dad, just so you know, this was a whole lot more fun for you than it was for me.”  He admonished me to abandon my favorite description of the ordeal as “a wonderful process of self-discovery.”

I was certain that my days of seeing the process from the parent side of the desk was over, since my sons are 30 and 33 years old.  But, as one of the baseball heroes of my youth, Yogi Berra, so inimitably put it, “it’s like déjà vu all over again.”

My dear niece is a senior, and I had my first-ever Facetime college admission session with her recently.  Alexandra doesn’t have a dad, and since we grew extremely close in our six years together at my former, and her current school, I’m squarely on the “other side of the desk” in this process.  I will celebrate her acceptances and grieve with her over the denials that the process almost guarantees just as if she were my daughter,

But being back in quasi-parent mode has raised two perennial questions:  (1) is college worth the price tag; and (2) liberal arts or career-track.  Both are a little more philosophical for me this time around since the one part of the process that won’t fall to this “parent” is the tuition statement.

Spoiler alert: my answers are “absolutely” and “absolutely liberal arts.”

I won’t resort to trotting out the annual recitation of total annual income by education level, but the large sample of that survey trumps (is that word still ok to use?) the individual billionaire college dropouts that critics of investing in a four-year degree routinely cite.  In addition to increasing one’s lifetime income, I cannot imagine a more formative, influential four-year period.  Managing relative independence, trying on new personas, being part of a community – it would be difficult to recreate that experience.

I will concede that getting that first job is easier for an aeronautical engineering or accounting graduate.  However, having been on a narrow track for the first two of my four years of college, I am so grateful that things opened up in years three and four.  I did not even know what psychology was before my junior year of college, and after 15 credits, I wished that I had the luxury of doubling my major.  Philosophy, logic, music appreciation – all of these courses have had a positive impact on my life.

My niece was spared all of this.  We were too busy honing her list of 16 colleges to an “almost manageable” list of 11 to which she will apply.  While this process is stressful for students and parents, much to my eldest’s chagrin, I still maintain there is significant opportunity for self-discovery, and more than ever, I value the growth afforded by a liberal arts education.

Dave Davies, Head of School

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