Why “it gets better” in college

I've often said to groups of high school students when I'm giving a college admissions talk, "In college, there's always someone who's stranger than you are." 

I used to say it because I wanted kids to know that the narrow social definitions of what's OK and not OK during the high school years disappear at most colleges.  I've always hoped there would be a few kids in the audience who could use that as yet another reason to be excited about going to college, whether or not it was in the Ivy League.

But anyone paying attention to the news these days can see things seem to be getting worse in high school.  It's not just about being told you're not wearing the right clothes, or not athletic or not listening to the right music. Some kids being psychologically and physically tortured by other students to the point that they don't want to live anymore.  And in response, a lot of people, from writers to musicians, to college kids are reminding them that it gets better.

I don't want to cheapen those recent tragedies by turning them into some kind of college admissions lesson.  And I know I can't make much of a dent here on my little blog.  But I do want to remind high school students who read this of one thing.

College is a place where individuality is celebrated. Sure, some colleges feel more like high school than others do, but there are plenty of colleges out there where the further you are from the mainstream, the better.  You'd never look or feel out of place, no matter how different you're made to feel are right now.

Whether you're someone whose high school years are being made miserable, or if you're just the kid who's never known or cared where the cool party is, you don't have to just cross your fingers and hope that it gets better someday.  You get to choose the type of college environment you want to live in just three months after high school graduation. Think about the kind of place you'd like to be.  What kind of people would you like to be around?  What would you like your college to stand for?  What would make you happy?  Whatever your answers to those questions are, there's a college out there for you.  You just have to find it.

There are over 2,000 colleges in the country and most of them take pretty much everybody who applies (that's surprising, but true).  You've got all kinds of choices.  So get yourself a good college guidebook, go to a college fair, or talk to your counselor about colleges that might be right for you.  Use your college search as a chance to create your ideal post-high school environment.  As you start to find schools that fit your vision, you'll have something to look forward to.  You'll get even more excited about life after high school.  And you'll probably feel it starting to get a little better already.