Let’s Try Saving the Collegiate Herd

Harrison is a high school junior. He’s always been near the top of his class, well-liked by peers, plays varsity football — in many ways, a big man on campus. His confidence is high; people around him affirm he’s “someone who could be great at anything.” And, everyone’s already asking about college. His parents went to Georgia, he has a few smart friends going to Vandy, but he’s considering a small-college experience, too. To be honest, he has no idea what to do. So he starts sending out applications, just seeing what happens. He doesn’t get in to Vandy, opts not to start-over socially at a small school and follows his friends instead, to Georgia. It’s still HS junior year, but suddenly everyone wants to know what he’ll major in. He talks to his parents, asks a few friends what they think he’d be good at, and picks accounting. “I’m pretty decent at math. There’s a lot of companies I could work for and it seems like a sure-fire way to make good money.”

Maddie is a college senior. She’s done it all — 4.0, double major in political science and history, president of her sorority, in SGA, and even volunteers twice a month at an animal shelter. Her whole plan has been to take the LSAT, get into a top law school, crush it four more years, join a top-tier firm, keep crushing it, and in twenty years, make partner and finally, $500k a year. There’s just one problem — the thought of studying for the LSAT, much less four more years of school or stepping into a job she’s not even sure she’ll like — all of it sounds miserable. “But I’m in too deep. I can’t quit now.” The thought of disappointing her parents, who have paid for school all these years, and whose hope seems wrapped up in her success, is almost too overwhelming to handle. So, she keeps at it, but she just can’t shake the idea that she should’ve chosen something else.

These are two of nearly a hundred similar stories we’ve heard over the past seven years. The work we do with FreeTextbooks is focused entirely on college students and recent grads, building technology to help them be more productive and successful. It’s more apparent each year that the majority of students don’t really know what to do with their life, yet are stuck in an endless cycle of performance: better grades, double majors, maximum clubs, just-enough volunteering, oh and internship experience too. Students seem to have begun a career-like work schedule from the age of high school, all in the name of mindless comparison and the quest to be “successful”.

Statements like “I’m just so busy” come up in almost every student conversation we have, which to us, sounds more indicative of a young parent or working 70 hours a week on Wall Street. The point of college is to find what you love: friends, interests, experiences, careers. It shouldn’t be about performance. In a recent focus group, one college junior said she has fifteen mandatory meetings every week. Other students echoed her pain, and a quick poll produced an average of nine. Think about that. A nineteen-year-old has more mandatory meetings and performance pressure than, in many ways, a CEO.

William Deresiewicz wrote in his essential book, Excellent Sheep, “although many adolescents can fill page after page of a resume, they have little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but no idea why they’re doing it.”

We’ve all followed the herd. Chances are you chose the most prestigious college that admitted you (84% of us did exactly that). Then, you chose a major that seemed like something worth aspiring to — an altruistic, high-earning career your parents would be proud of. And, your college was all-too-happy to develop another nurse, doctor or investment banker. It made their tuition-paying parents ecstatic.

We should be shocked that our most life-altering decisions have almost entirely been persuaded by other people’s perception — of prestige, of success, of who we ought to be.

Fast forward to now; the rat race of college is nearing an end and find yourself disillusioned about what it’s given you. “Is this it? This is what I worked so hard for?” You’re silently terrified of the future, with no idea what to do next.

If you went along with the societal narrative of success without considering anything else, you shouldn’t feel guilty — just regret. It’s hard to build your soul when everyone around you is trying to sell theirs.

In our own survey, 87% of small-to-medium-sized employers told us they’re not hiring first-time-job’ers. A flat-out “no”; it’s just too risky. Instead, their sweet spot for hiring is second-job’ers. They look for employees with enough experience and framework to quickly be productive and efficient. So, to get there, you also need actual career output — real numbers with real experience to put on a resumé.

Both sides are broken. Students make life decisions based on poor judgment and comparison, and because of employer bias, aren’t even able to jump into a first job (unless you count ‘management-training programs’ 😞).

So, we’re creating a residency program to help grads break through the entry-level. It’s a three-month workshop for you to redefine your lane, understand your wiring, and discover the talents that should be guiding your future decisions. Think of it like a paid internship that actually leads somewhere — to recognition, relationship and jobs. We’ll expose you to a fast-paced environment, one in which you’ll cultivate a strong work ethic and adaptability. And because we’re well-versed in the programs and skills that most small-to-medium-sized employers require, particularly technology startups, we’ll actually teach you the software and skills many employers use and require. Finally, we’ll even help you land a job you love.

Come grow, explore, try & fail, then try again. Along the way, you’ll make some new friends and share an experience that will shape your future.

Don’t trust us. Start learning to trust yourself.