There is a law of physics that states “objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” This is the story of one such interaction: a student in motion acted upon by an outside force and the resultant change in trajectory.
A few weeks ago, we talked about the college decision process in one of my classes. A question was posed to the class about our own college decision process: “When did you decide to attend college?”
This question has stuck with me throughout the term, and is actually a source of frustration. I have had a very hard time answering it, but I’ve finally come to a satisfactory answer. The reason that I couldn’t pin down my decision to attend college was that I didn’t decide to go to college until after I actually started college. More than one year afterward, actually.
Don’t worry, there’s an explanation to this madness, and it’s probably one of the single biggest reasons that I am in the field of student affairs. In fact, a student affairs professional was the one who really made me think about college in a different way and, from my perspective, actually decide to go to college.
College, for me, was never something that one “decided” to do. It was something that everyone did…or at least should do if they wanted to go anywhere in life. I was never asked when I was young “are you going to college?” but “where are you going to go to college?” I was on a college bound trajectory from practically day one, and I was completely unaware that it was an opportunity that some people never even get to consider.
I applied to one school because I knew that I could get in. I didn’t have to expend a lot of energy on my application since I knew that as long as I filled out the whole thing, my GPA made me an “automatic admit.” This single criteria policy further cemented in my mind that college was just something you did after high school if you tried hard enough. I picked a major based on the results of an aptitude test that I took my sophomore year of high school, so it shouldn’t have been too surprising when I found out that the field that I had picked wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.
By my sophomore year, I was ready to get out of chemical engineering. I really didn’t enjoy it and I was starting to do poorly in my classes. This is where that “outside force” that I mentioned really altered my college trajectory for the better, and that force was a student affairs professional. It was the RHA advisor, who I had built a good relationship with as a second-year hall council president. We just started talking at an RHA event and before I knew it we were talking about things that I was actually good at and actually enjoyed and how those were actually possible to do for a living. This wasn’t quite where I decided to go into student affairs, but it’s a very salient point on that journey as it was where I decided to go into education.
This is also the point in time that I can pinpoint as the moment that I actually decided to go to college. I was already a year into my college experience, but I had a significant realization that I’d been coming at college from the wrong angle (at least for me). It wasn’t just something you did after high school, nor was it something everyone did, so it became a much bigger opportunity than I had ever realized before. This was the point that it also became about much more than academics for me. I started to get involved in things like RHA that I learned just as much from as my classroom studies. I had choices and opportunities beyond a few electives that made college so much more significant than any educational experience that I’d ever had before.
Some of the students that we serve may not have gone through the process of choosing to go to college, even though they are already here. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and this is true of someone in an educational system as well. I continued to move along a similar path to what I’d been doing in high school through my freshman year until someone noticed that that path wasn’t going to provide fulfillment for me.
Years later when speaking with the same advisor about student affairs graduate programs she confided in me that the very next day day after our conversation when I stopped by her office to excitedly tell her that I’d changed my major she had the brief thought “oh my God, did I just screw up Chris?” As I told her, “no, you helped me more than you probably realized.” I hadn’t taken an active part in choosing to be where I was until that point. I didn’t even really realize that I could.
This is part of why I do what I do. I want to answer the question “woah, you mean I can really do that?” with a resounding “Yes!” for those students who don’t yet realize that education has become their choice.
Chris Van Drimmelen
SUSDA Communications Chair