Know what you don’t know

For seniors making decisions about which college to attend, it might be helpful to acknowledge what you don’t know.

For example, you don’t know if you’ll love being a biology major. You don’t know if you’ll get along with your roommate. You don’t know if you’ll miss home, or get a good internship next summer, or find the right study abroad opportunity.

Sure, you likely have inclinations. If you’ve chosen a major, you did so because you’re interested in the subject and it seems to make sense based on what you know today. But you may not be sure. How could you be? You haven’t started yet! That’s the way making big decisions works. There are always unknowns.

So you have two options. The first? You can wrestle with the uncertainty, and there are lots of ways to do that. Ignoring it. Pretending it’s not there. Force feeding more information in an attempt to make the uncertain certain. But if something is actually uncertain, if it really is more than just a lack of information and is based on an outcome that hasn’t happened yet, these tactics aren’t likely to work.

The other option is to identify, accept, and sit with the unknowns. Not to ignore them, not to minimize them, and not to write them off as unimportant. But to carefully consider and give them their appropriate weight, fully accepting that they are uncertainties that will be made certain in the future.

It’s liberating to do this. It frees you of the tension of the unknown and allows you to focus on the more useful knowns. And when you do, please remember that knowns can still be uncertainties. For example, you might know that based on the research you’ve done, your current interests, and your intended career plan as it stands today, majoring in biology is a good decision for you. Today, that’s known. And you should embrace that. What happens tomorrow is still unknown, and that’s OK.

I think college decisions should be informed and thoughtful. Ask the advice of people you trust and who know you well. Talk with your counselor to make sure your impressions of the college are accurate. Due diligence has its place here.

But don’t waste time struggling to make knowns out of unknowns. That just leads to anxiety and decision paralysis as you wait for a certainty that will never arrive.

Sometimes the certainties become clearer when you know what you don’t know.