Strengths in the College Search Process

Stumped in your college search? Overwhelmed by options? Take a breath! And simplify things for yourself a bit. The answer is clear: simply focus on your strengths.



What Are You Capable Of?


School has most likely failed you. In particular, it has failed one, specific, monumentally important aspect of you: your potential


When you hear the word “potential,” perhaps it sounds like an intellectual category. Your hopes of being a rocket scientist was vaporized by mediocre physics teachers and routinized homework. Could be. Or your childhood love for reading was ruined by book reports on The Scarlet Letter. Not exactly what you choose to do in your free time.


In a deeper sense, though, “potential” refers to the vast, kaleidoscopic totality of your interests and strengths. Whether you divide it up into character traits – humility, perseverance, curiosity, and so on – or activities and memories that have been important to you (of which there are hundreds), we chronically limit ourselves to a very narrow concept of what we’re good at and enjoy doing. In short, we forget. Because nobody reminds us – nobody insists – that all those things you love to do, but are never tested on, are just as important. Even more so.



Potential Is Easy to Forget About. Don’t Do It!


When we don’t forget, however, we’re conscious of our potential. Autonomy, for example, is essential to realizing your potential, and schooling systematically obliterates it. Your love of nature and the animal world was likely scrubbed out by being pegged between a wooden chair and gummed-up desk for 12 years. 


A major problem is that, when we think of education, we think of training the head, and not the person as a whole. (This, of course, results from a schooling framework designed to prepare you for cubicle work, not a meaningful life of healthy relationships and independence).


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Look Inward, Especially When You Feel Rushed.


So, you’re looking for some concrete advice about how to search for colleges? Here it is: begin your search within yourself. And take your sweet time.


Without examining what you really want from education, you’re likely to continue through your undergraduate years without realizing this one, essential fact: you are your own education. Too many of our students rely on external elements – grades, degrees, and tallied-up volunteer hours – in defining themselves. This is a message transmitted both explicitly and implicitly in our culture. Today’s students believe that education is something handed over to you.


It’s not. Education is something you design for yourself and actively seek, and you do it for its own sake because it empowers you on your own terms.  


Education cannot be handed to you. A high school diploma or bachelor’s degree can, sure. But in chasing that piece of paper, your real education is likely to slip right out from under your feet.



The Work You’d Do For Free


All this means that, when you’re looking around for colleges and reflecting on your career goals, don’t think, “What profession do I want to have?” That comes later. Instead, think, “What do I truly love doing? What kind of job would I do for no pay at all? What fills me with energy and drive? What would I do if they gave me six months off school?” 


There is undoubtedly a way to build your career around the answer to those questions. Seriously. Today, more than ever, authenticity and genuine excitement pay off. However, no amount of college credit or institutionally-granted paper rectangles will ever be able to answer it for you.