I confess I haven’t read Dr. Steven R. Covey extensively (or at all – sorry, Dr. C!), but every now and then I’ll scroll through my social media feeds and someone will have posted his excellent and profound statement on the difference between listening and understanding.
Have you seen it?
It’s a valid observation about person-to-person communication, to be sure, but with a few tweaks, it’s also very applicable to the college search process. Namely, most students do not conduct their college research with the intent to see how they can fit their lives into a college’s community; they instead research with the intent to fit the college into their own comfortable existence.
College is, for many students, the first step they will take into true adulthood. It’s the first time they’ll live away from home, the first time they’ll be in charge of making their own educational choices, and – for the majority – the first time they’ll encounter ideas, systems, and perhaps even a culture completely outside the one they’ve grown up within. To therefore expect their college lives to be just like the ones they’re used to in high school is not just unrealistic, it’s also a quick way to set themselves up for an educational disaster.
How can you avoid this trap?
First, accept that change will be absolutely necessary to your college-going experience. A new living situation, new teachers (make that professors), a new student body, new place to eat, new daily schedule – all of these things will necessitate a great deal of change on your part as you begin your college career. Unfortunately, change isn’t always comfortable (e.g. professors might ask you to examine some of your long-held beliefs in light of research or evidence to the contrary, leading to considerable confusion and perhaps even anger or frustration) and as a college freshman, you’re going to be hit with a lot of it all at once. But if you’re willing to remain open to it, to consider new points of view, and try new experiences, you might discover new perspectives and find yourself seeking other changes as a result.
Second – and this one is of vital importance – understand that, where your chosen college is concerned, the majority of the change will be on your part, not the part of the institution. After all, many colleges and universities have been established for a century or more and their traditions, cultures, and values are therefore far older than you. They know exactly who they are, who thrives in their classrooms and on their athletic fields, and have outlined the steps they’d like to take as they move forward to educate not only you, but the students who will follow in your footsteps. These mission statements are clearly articulated in the materials they send in the mail and on the pages of their web sites, so as you read them, ask yourself point blank if you can see yourself fitting into this mold.
For example, if the institution is founded upon the principles of the evangelical church and faith is a cornerstone of all parts of their curriculum, is that something you’ll embrace and find an important part of your education, or do you wish for your education to be more secular?
Or perhaps you’re an equestrian who plans to enter the equine industry as a horse trainer after graduation – has the school produced many horse trainers or is their curriculum/riding program geared more toward competitive amateur riders?
What if the campus has very little dormitory housing available and students are required to find local housing on their own? Are you ready to work with a landlord to pay rent and with utility companies to pay for other living costs? Will you have time to shop for groceries? What about roommates? Will you need one or two (or five or six) in order to keep costs reasonable – and then how will you break down costs and responsibilities?
The bottom line, students, is that all colleges have their strengths and weaknesses, just like people. And as you build the list of schools you’ll consider for your next four years, you’ll need to weigh those characteristics against your list of needs and wants and be very (very!) honest with yourself not only about what you expect your college career to include, but also about how willing you are to change once you arrive on campus.
In other words, listen to what the colleges tell you about themselves with an ear not to how good you’ll look in their sweatshirts or how much fun you’ll have at their football games on Saturdays, but instead to how you’ll be asked to grow and change once you enroll.
Steven R. Covey would approve.