The path to college and a career: then and now

“Plastics.”

It’s amazing to think that this famous line from The Graduate is given as career advice not to a high school or college student, but to a college graduate. Much has changed since 1967, however, about life as a student.

There was a time when high school students didn’t have to worry about their career. They could concern themselves with one thing at a time: earning good grades in high school, attending a quality university, working towards their degree, starting a career, and so on.

If you’re from our generation, you probably experienced a similar path to college. We navigated high school and the college application process much like our peers: that is, we mostly did so on our own. This says less about us than the time we grew up in. In those days, one could enroll in a few AP courses, study hard, get involved in a few extracurricular activities, and still find time to enjoy high school.

Things truly were simpler then. It’s unlikely that today’s students at high schools in the Bay Area experience the same academics and the college application process. Today, parents with children in high school — public or private — can attest to how much more is expected from students on their path to college.

For one, there’s simply a lot more competition. In the fall of 1969, a total of 6.8 million students enrolled in undergraduate programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). By the fall of 2001, that figure had more than doubled to 13.1 million. And while those figures continue to grow, the best universities can only increase their admissions by so much.

Even before starting their college applications, students face high expectations and ever-mounting workloads. In my time, taking one or two AP courses was impressive enough; now we commonly see students taking five or more in the hopes of padding their future transcripts. SAT testing and the college applications themselves have likewise become more grueling.

Looking back, I consider Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate) lucky he didn’t have to think about his career until after graduation from college. Today, it’s not college graduates or even college students hearing the contemporary equivalent of “plastics,” but high school students. Even as they juggle everything that was expected of my generation — like good grades and extracurricular activities — they’re also urged to think about their future careers.

As parents, we should do everything we can to ease our children’s anxieties about the future. While we should always encourage them to shoot for high scores in school and to open themselves to various opportunities, we need to make sure they’re not pushing themselves to the brink of stress. It can easily get overwhelming.

We founded uThrive precisely with these factors in mind.

First and foremost, we wanted to offer a tutoring experience that didn’t simply pile on additional pressure for students to earn the “A.” Instead, our tutors (all from Stanford University) travel to students’ homes to form real relationships and offer more than homework help. Our tutors are mentors, giving high school students a model for where they will be in a few years.

We’re dedicated to empowering students to do well in school and in life. Interested in learning more? Please reach out to us at info@uthrive.co.