The Tree of Choices
To my high school-aged readers: Think about college right now. Did it induce a little bit of decision-based panic? If so, I totally understand, and have some bad news for you: It will get worse.
As you’re considering colleges, there are a lot of factors: Which schools have the best departments for the major you’re interested in? How is housing? How is the dining? What size is the campus, and where is it located? Which major should you choose? As overwhelming as this can initially seem, though, the encouraging fact is that once you’ve weighed all the factors, you make a decision (assuming you were accepted to all the schools you applied to) and forge ahead from there.
Once you’re in college, though… there’s no conclusion! Deciding what you want to do with your life is suddenly a very, very scary tree of decisions – Perhaps the most unnerving part is how far up the tree you can see. While choosing a college is a relatively short-term decision, deciding which internships to gun for and where you want to end up after school is suddenly a decision that will directly (and italically) reach far into your future and very high up your Tree of Choices.
It’s a very natural human response to be afraid of closing doors and losing opportunities, but the reality is that moving forward in college and in life is almost impossible to do without closing a lot of doors. Recognizing that fact doesn’t make it easier, though – It’s hard to hear doors on opportunities you’ve had your whole life closing. Perhaps harder, though, is foreseeing those closing doors. When you can tell ahead of time that a decision is going to negate a lot of opportunities for you, it’s really really hard to make that decision anyways. Stalling or deferring keeps opportunities open, right?
The reason this issue is on my mind is that I’ve been thinking about next summer – The summer between junior and senior year, I’ll attend LDAC to be evaluated for ROTC, and the summer after graduating I’ll be sent to an Officer’s Basic Course depending on the branch I select for the Army (which, in turn, decides what my career path will be! Talk about closing a bunch of doors with one decision). This means that the upcoming summer is the last full summer I have to really use as my own, or to make decisions about. Do I look for an internship close to home at ORNL, or try to find one at a lab or engineering firm elsewhere? Do I try to load up on Army schools, or maybe retake a class to boost my GPA? I could try to go abroad, since I’ve never had the opportunity to leave the States. Each of these decisions closes at least a few other doors!
Vanderbilt is an amazing school with so many opportunities. Sometimes, though, the sheer number of possibilities and opportunities can be too much to handle.