Scholarships. Quite possibly the best thing a high school senior or college student can receive at this point in their life. Who doesn't want their post-secondary education paid for by generous community donors? The people of the organizations who hand out scholarships to qualified students deserve so much thanks and appreciation for what they do. Often times, these scholarship opportunities are the driving force that makes higher education accessible to low-income students, and that's beyond amazing.

However, being someone who has applied to more local and national scholarships than I can count on two hands, I've discovered a flaw in applying for these scholarships. The way that these applications are structured and the standards, both explicit and implicit, that many scholarship organizations put on students have recently revealed itself to be unhelpful to me. We as students feel the expectation of having to primp and polish our grades, test scores, and entire resume in order to present the best version of ourselves to the scholarship judges. In addition to this stress, we must also respond to different variations of one daunting question: "what plans do you have for your future?" Young students, especially those in high school who have yet to even experience work or college, are pushed by this question to think far forward and declare a definitive plan for themselves. Yes, sometimes it may be helpful in thinking about what direction one is headed. But, in many cases (i.e. me), this question asked and answered at such an early and turbulent point in a young person's life can be very limiting.

Developing a good-enough answer to this one scholarship question and being able to confidently recite my answer upon request as a rising college student narrowed my career options. I'd tell myself and the scholarship committees that I want to become certified in secondary education, become a teacher, then continue on to work on public policy concerning the school system. Seemed great. However, the constant repetition of the plans that high-school-junior-me thought up blinded me to the realization that these future plans may not even be exactly what I want to pursue as a college student. On top of that, these career goals that I chose to stick with were so heavily dependent on how others (i.e. the scholarship committees) viewed me.

So now, after having convinced myself for almost two full semesters in college that the future goals I've chosen are the right ones for me, I'm more confused than ever. Yes, I'd love to do something in the world of education. However, if I'm being completely honest with myself and not basing my path on outside factors, working as a certified teacher at a public high school isn't exactly the direction I'd like to see my life going. The academic major and programs that high-school-me thought I'd be going into aren't exactly what I want to continue doing with my time here in college. Personally, I'm still trying to figure it out.

I'm writing here, though, to make an important point: please, don't ask a high school student / prospective college student what exactly they want to do in the future with the intent of judging that career choice. Yes, urge them to consider the future. But also, listen to their plans openly and understand that the goals they think up are completely flexible. And if you're a student yourself, remember, despite what may be written in your scholarship applications or said for the approval of others, stay true to your authentic self and work towards who you aspire to be.