My daughter, Shannon, a junior at top-ranked Cedarburg High School in Wisconsin, is starting that bewildering rite of passage nearly every young person making the difficult transition to adulthood faces: choosing a college or university. In case her dad and I (often in denial of how rapidly she is growing up and away from us) have not been paying attention, the signs of this tumultuous test are everywhere. Colorful brochures depicting ivory clad walls and sprawling campuses dotted with smiling, freshly scrubbed, youthful faces began arriving last fall. ACT tests are next week. Our investment advisor is talking to us about sources of financial aid and scholarships.

Higher education costs aside, it seems that ensuring the right “fit” for Shannon is of paramount import. As if she can slide her arms into the warm sleeves of that plucked-from-the-dryer college sweater or shimmy into a slinky, city-smart university dress with plenty of attitude. The choices seem to be endless, with more than 4,000 institutions across the U.S. (and even more abroad, but who’s counting.) Fortunately, there are plenty of well-intentioned advisers to guide her path. The ACT website has a helpful “College Planning Checklist.” If that doesn’t suit or enlighten, there are plenty more sites with names like ivyselect, collegechoice, and of course the ubiquitous U.S. News & World Report Best College Rankings. For the bargain price of $29.95, one can also sign up for this publisher’s exclusive College E-book and My Fit Engine, which uses 23 different criteria and I am sure the latest algorithms, online analytics and other internet voodoo to spit out the precise match for your young genius.

The only problem is, at the ripe age of 17 or 18, how many of us really know what we want to do with the rest of our lives? At that age, I was making minimum wage working at McDonald’s flipping burgers (back when You Deserved a Break Today). I knew that I wanted to go to college, as this was the key to “getting a good job.” But short of that, I don’t recall talking about it much with my family, getting guidance from my high school guidance counselor, making any school visits, filling out college applications or the rest. Pretty much on my own, I decided to live at home, work full-time and attend the local community franchise, McHenry County College, while I figured it out. Two years later, I spun the bottle and picked a career, public relations, and a college, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, which had a degree in the field (rare at the time). It turned out to be the right choice for me (Phew!!), although I do have some Type A tendencies that sometimes get the better of me.

That was then, this is now. Shannon’s high school does an excellent job of preparing students and parents for the arduous task before them. Her guidance counselor, Tim Labinski, has worked closely with her through the years to help motivate and prepare her emotionally and educationally for THE FUTURE. Her grades are good. She is expected to test well. She is curious and interested in exploring the world. She is strong and resilient. She is compassionate and caring, volunteering each of the past three years with her church for the annual youth home build trip to Pittsburgh. She makes good decisions. Despite stress and the occasional setback, she powers on. These are all predictors of student success and the stuff that leaders are made of, I am assured by The Huffington Post.

I remember one semester in middle school, when Shannon did not get her typical straight A’s, hearing her wail through tears, “Mom, I’ll never be able to get into college!” Now, the pressure is mounting.

K-Pop Band TVXQ

What to do, what to do? Pursue a medical career? Enlist in the Army? Join an ashram? Embark on a global K-Pop groupie tour? Whatever she chooses to do, my one hope is that Shannon will be happy and fulfilled. Oh, and that she takes some time to enjoy her high school years before they’re gone.

The admissions dance will soon begin. Looking back, if I faced the same pressures with my college choice that Shannon faces today, chances are I would have crawled into bed, or hidden under it, and never looked back. The mountain of college debt so many students graduate with today has grown into the trillions. A college degree is no longer a guarantee for “a good job” as it once was. But, no degree often means a world of financial hurt.

During the remainder of her junior year and into her senior year, Shannon must make a string of life-changing decisions along with the rest of her school mates. Soon these high school years will be a blur in the fading memory bank as the future looms before them. A parting word of advice? It’s impossible to predict the future, what life holds for us — college degree or no college degree. So, keep an eye peeled toward the horizon, but try to relax and enjoy the ride.

The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my current or former employers, my friends and colleagues, anyone I may have met in the past or may meet in the future.

About Mary Brophy

Mary has held leadership positions at the world’s largest independent PR agency, Edelman Worldwide, Cramer-Krasselt, Jacobson Rost and other leading agencies. Her background includes advising CEO-level executives on a variety of crisis communications and reputational issues.