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Should You Use Rankings to Choose a College?Suzanne Shaffer
I have found the Japanese concept of ikigai a helpful framework when I’m working with students (and their families) to find the best college for them, especially when that student is undecided about a course of study.
The term combines two Japanese words: iki, meaning “alive,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.”
Basically, it’s your reason for being; in French, raison d’être. It’s why you get up in the morning. And right now, after more than a year and a half of pandemic living, it’s one of the more popular self-help philosophies out there.
Your ikigai lies at the intersection (think Venn diagram) of these four questions:
Very rarely does a student find their ikigai in grade school, middle school or high school. Most students find their ikigai during (or shortly after) their college years. I didn’t find mine until two years after graduate school!
Some people never find their true ikigai, and it’s not necessarily their fault. For example, many of us are influenced by family into a career path that becomes a profession, but not ikigai. (“I’m a lawyer/doctor/teacher, so you’re going to be one, too!”)
Yet parents, relatives, counselors and teachers are constantly asking, “What are you going to major in?” The pressure students feel to make a decision is tremendous! If they were truly being honest with themselves, most students would say that they're undecided about exactly what they want to do, what they want to study, and which college they would like to attend.
These “undecideds” are my favorite students to counsel, especially during their junior year of high school.
Most students don’t know what they love, and they haven’t sampled enough of life to know all that they’re good at. Students for sure do not know job forecasts or salary structures.
When I counsel an undecided student, I explore ikigai without them even knowing that I'm doing it. I guess I could just come out and ask “What do you like the most? What are you good at doing?” But there are more subtle and thoughtful questions that work much better. Let me tell you some of my favorite questions.
If a student appears to have their mind set on one specific career (engineering, nursing, law, etc.), I always ask them for a Plan B — and a Plan C and Plan D.
For example, if they say law, I ask, “If you are not admitted to law school, or you are admitted but find out you don’t enjoy it, what would be your second choice? What would you do for money?”
Since a pre-law student can major in virtually anything, I encourage them to pursue their Plan B as their course of study. I encourage students to (a) always keep an open mind, and (b) always have multiple backup plans.
...and it can lead to a college list.
As your student responds to these questions, a picture begins to form about potential majors and programs. Once you have that, you research to find colleges that offer those subjects, whether as majors, minors, certificates or programs.
You will rarely find a college that covers all of your student's interests, so list the most likely ones. Recently I worked with a student who had six different potential programs/majors (all very different from one another), and I was fortunate to help them find one university that actually offered all of them!
In the end, the goal is for the student to have a clearer idea of what they really like, what they are good at, and job potential — plus a list of colleges to which they should apply and, most importantly, visit. Obviously there are other factors to be considered, cost being the primary one, but this is a good starting point for students. A college advising service can help families plan for the future.
The right college will help lead your student to their ikigai. The more we as parents and counselors can do get our students to begin thinking about their future in terms of interests, passions and talents, the easier it will be for them to complete the ikigai process as they go forward.
Everything you need to get through college application season with your high school senior!