WHY you go to college is far more important than where you go, despite cultural conditioning to the contrary. I’ve learned to ask high school girls what their plans are for after high school, and the responses I get are fascinating. Most give me a funny look and say, “I’m going to college, duh!” They don’t actually say duh, but their facial expression and tone of voice does. I continue playing dumb by asking, “Why do you want to go to college?” This is when the conversation gets interesting.

Half the girls start spewing out this whole mantra of top college becomes great job becomes big income. This is the mantra they’ve heard from parents, teachers, and colleges their entire life. The other half hem, haw, and stutter, unable to vocalize their intentions. Most young people have never taken the time to ask themselves the question, “Why might I want to go to college?” It’s never too late for some good old-fashioned soul-searching.

The process of being self-motivated ought to begin in early childhood, not as a high school senior. When your five-year-old asks you if you like her drawing, ask her what SHE thinks of her artwork. Her description of what she loves about her picture is her intrinsic motivation and good feelings about drawing. Just mirror that back, “You really love using lots of different colors in your drawings”, and the good feelings become internalized and always available to draw from. Start asking your kids why they like playing soccer, reading, painting, or whatever activity they are into. Question what kind of grades they want to achieve and why. These why questions will teach kids to go inward and get in touch with their intrinsic motivation, THEIR reasons for doing things. Thus, when you ask about college, they’ll be in the habit of figuring out their own  intentions for going.

Kids and adults become more engaged in whatever they are doing if they have autonomy in choosing it. I’ve written previously about the importance of HOW you go to college. What’s really critical is how well you use the university you go to and what you demand of it. Part of your WHY for attending college could be to reinvent and expand yourself, gain confidence from navigating new experiences and challenges, and finding what you are interested in career-wise. You will receive the most from your college years if you are fully engaged in the process.

Having your own intentions for going to college requires letting go of old behaviors like not wanting to disappoint people, looking for approval, and not wanting to rock the boat. You have to be ready for some people disapproving of your choices, especially your parents. I encourage young adults to listen to the advice of parents, teachers, and other adults who love them but always pass their suggestions through the filter of, “Does this feel right for me?” You need to gain confidence in your ability to know what’s best for you.

Letters from My Grandfather

Encourage young adults to cultivate quiet, alone time to reflect and soul-search. Becoming more inner directed allows us all to know what we need and what’s right for us. It’s inside your daughter where she will find her “WHY” for attending college. DR. JORDAN’S NEW BOOK, Letters From My Grandfather: Timeless Wisdom For a Life Worth Living is available in both print or e-book formats.   Kindle version     Print version