With the May 1st college decision deadline quickly approaching, I’ve been talking to seniors a lot about plans for next year. Consider this familiar scenario: A student has been accepted to their dream school out of state, but will have to pay $20,000/year. They’ve also been accepted to a great school that was third on their list, but will pay nothing. While you may have your own ideas about the “right” decision, in reality there are compelling reasons for both. Some would argue the more expensive dream school is a worthy investment for the experience, the reputation of the school, and the chance to realize a lifelong dream. Others would say it’s foolish to turn down a full ride to any 4-year institution, and that your college experience is what you make of it. Both are sound arguments. Neither is wrong.
These hard choices pervade all of our lives: Do I leave a job I love for a large pay increase at a job I might hate? Do I move to a city with higher taxes but much better services? Do I allow my son to work while he’s still in school? Do I encourage my ailing parents to move into assisted living?
According to Ruth Chang, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, we struggle with big decisions because the way we frame them is problematic. Some reasons just can’t be quantified. For instance, in the initial example, there’s no way to assign measurable value to four years at your dream school; nor can you assign specific value to zero college debt. The better way to look at these decisions is to acknowledge that while they may not be equal, they are, in Chang’s words, “on a par.”
Framing big decisions like this allows us to be more open about which path to take. So instead of being paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision, we can say, “These are both good choices. I’ll be fine either way. Let me consider what I really want for my life right now and in the future.”
And as many of us parents know, the decisions we make about our kids only get bigger with time. “Should I let her climb on that playset” becomes “Should I let her go on Spring Break with another family” becomes “Should I pay for a new trombone” becomes “Should I tell her I don’t approve of her fiance.” But if we can reframe the way we approach these decisions, we and our kids can make better choices and live better lives.
Although many seniors have already made their decisions about next year, several are still grappling with it, and of course, the events of the last year have made things even more complicated. But if we can help alleviate their fears about making the wrong decision, they will be freed up to make the best, right decision for them.
Chang, Ruth. “How to Make Hard Choices.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices?language=en.
Image (upper right): from https://thenounproject.com/