With college admission season in full-effect, your Twitter feed will soon be flooded with viral videos that show joyous high school seniors creatively revealing where they will attend college. Some will choose logoed hats or eat cupcakes with college insignias, and others will select a school on stage with the former first lady, Michelle Obama. Just as much as these celebrations are well-deserved, students also deserve easy-access to the best information possible while making these important decisions. All observers should hope that these students can look back at this time fondly, and not with regret.
When I was a senior in high school, I was set to make a college decision that did not align with my goals or interests. As someone who wanted to study political science and go to graduate school, I felt that several University of California schools could be the right fit. Like many students, my heart was set on the University of California, Los Angeles in particular. Its emphasis on research and public service, as well as its reputation for producing upwardly mobile graduates were factors that I frequently mentioned to anyone who would listen. However, my high school counselors showed me the admissions numbers, and urged me to instead apply to several nearby schools they felt I could easily get into. That information resulted in acceptance letters to great universities. However, I was not sure that the programs offered would put me on the eventual career path I had envisioned for myself.
Luckily, I was connected with some data that helped me successfully achieve my goals. My mom, a nurse, often talked about me with her patients. By chance, one of her patients was a counselor at the nearby community college. He explained to her, and later me, that California’s community colleges are designed to help students transfer to four-year schools. The state’s Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum, a list of transferable courses and prerequisite-major requirements, could serve as another roadmap to meet my goals. Before this, I had no idea that the state’s university systems worked so closely with community colleges. I soon dug deeper into this option and learned about the number of students from community colleges who matriculated to four-year universities. The data backed up what my mom’s patient had claimed – that these students fared well once they completed their education journey.
With this information in mind, I knew that enrolling in a community college would put me in a position to reach my goals. Many of my peers who tried to transfer between four-year universities later found that their general education classes were not transferable. I would have had the same experience if I made my decision without accurate information.
While community college wasn’t what I thought my next step would be, access to meaningful data empowered me to understand that these schools serve students with various goals, needs, and backgrounds. Objective information allowed me to feel confident in the decisions I made as I planned my postsecondary path. Information that I had no idea existed helped me decide to start my journey at a community college, and additional data guided me toward the University of California, Los Angeles, a school that embraces its transfer students.
While the information on how high school graduates fare in higher education was ultimately helpful, I recognize now how much further I would have benefitted from data on how college graduates fare in the workforce. And I’m not alone. There is still much work to be done when it comes to providing students and families with crucial information. High school students deserve information about all of their potential postsecondary pathways and they should not need to depend on chance encounters or extensive independent research to find this information that can inform the rest of their lives. When considering their educational options, all students and families should have equal access to comprehensive data that can help them every step of the way.
I earned my place at UCLA but it wasn’t easy for me to find the right path to get there. I got lucky that someone guided me to the data needed to make the best decision for myself. Most students don’t get the same chance and are left to navigate options in the dark. It shouldn’t be that way.