If you can’t say anything nice, pretend to

When I used to think of college, I used to think of “going away”- as if the most important thing was leaving, rather than the college itself.

Instead, I’m going 7.2 miles “away” from home to Cal Lutheran. This isn’t because I didn’t get in anywhere else or that I’m afraid to experience anything out of a 10-mile radius, but because of my financial situation, my job, and most importantly, my major and what Cal Lutheran has to offer me.

I’m proud to be going to Cal Lutheran, a nationally recognized school where I’ll be in my dream program for my studies and will have amazing opportunities. If that is what’s important, then why do people’s congratulations seem indirectly condescending or outright rude?

Local colleges and community colleges have always had a misleading stigma, one that I once bought into even though I knew better. There’s the belief that by going to one of these schools, rather than a more recognizable school farther away, you will somehow be less successful than students who choose to go a different route. This idea is completely incorrect; no matter the school you go to, it is what you take from your education and experience and how you apply it to your future that counts.

I am very excited for my friends that got into their dream schools, no matter where they might be. Although I have received a great amount of support, there have been a few questions and comments made to me that would have never been said to someone going to a Cal State, UC or out-of-state school.  I feel as if it is my duty to warn people against possibly making these blunders in the future when talking to someone about college. Here are some examples of things not to say:

  1. “You’re going there?” Why yes, I am going “there” and I happen to be thrilled about it, so at least pretend to be happy for me.
  2. “I just think you’re going to regret it.” What an uplifting thing to say to someone who is just as nervous and anticipatory of her future as you are. It really makes me light up inside.
  3. “You used to want to go to ____ school.” That’s true, at one point I did want to go to ____ school. At one point I also wanted to be a Broadway star or a professional figure skater, but, you know, plans change. If I was congratulating someone who was going to UC Berkeley but whose dream school had been Stanford, I wouldn’t say, “You used to want to go to Stanford.”
  4. “I got in there too, but it was just a backup for me.” Ouch. I know everyone has safety schools, but is it the right time to talk about how the school I want to go to is your sixth choice? Come on, people.
  5. “It would be too close to home for me.”/”You’re basically trapped here now.” These ones aren’t as bad, but it still stings. Just because you wouldn’t do what I’m doing, it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice for me. (Also, people tend to forget I still have access to a car. And that I can drive. To places. Outside. A. Ten. Mile. Radius.)
  6. “You’re not going to have a real college experience.” Did you have a real high school experience? Are you planning to have a real life experience? No matter where you go to college, you’re going to have a real college experience just by being there.  

These comments may seem harmless, but they still have the potential to make me feel like less of an accomplished person than I felt like in the moment before I told you where I was going to school.

The stigma surrounding local and community colleges is never more apparent than it is when you tell somebody where you’re going, so take this as a public service announcement to be cautious about what you say and how you say it. I’m already so excited to see where the future takes everyone, and I can only hope the feeling will be mutual.

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