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“I kind of felt pressured into it,” he said.

I nodded, because it was something I had heard before from many people. I had only just met the kid – I was a supervisor and he was a new worker, and we were exchanging small talk. Talking about our majors.

I hardly blinked when he said he felt pressured to go into computer science.

“Where I’m from,” he said, “you kind of have to go into computer science.”

I thought, wait a second. This isn’t like being pressured into a sport or an instrument or into choosing a certain flavor of ice cream. This was something that would very likely determine the course of the rest of his life.

But it wasn’t like he was unaware of the pressure that was on him. He told me about his other passions – among them, film and language, both of which have ties to computer science – and how he hoped that a computer science degree would make him more marketable in fields where he could begin pursuing his passions as well.

I told him that my cinematography professor had been a computer science major; she worked for Google, didn’t like it, made a few films for Google, then left to make films for herself. I’m sure the pay at Google helped a lot to boost her security when she went freelance.

Obviously this freshman, and many like him, was aware of the convoluted but hopefully financially efficient path that would lead him to his dreams. He was aware of the fact that he had been pressured into taking that path, but he didn’t seem resentful.

The way the cookie crumbles

This student’s candid expression of his situation made me wonder just how cognizant college applicants are of the level of control they have over their choices – and if they’re aware of this dynamic, how aware are they of how it will impact their lives down the road?

Like I said, the student I spoke with seemed to have taken his predicament at face value and, without skipping a beat, incorporated it into a vision for the future that still accommodated his dreams. Are all students so lucky (or idealistic), though?

When I came to Cornell, I didn’t have a job on campus. I had worked a lot over the summer, so I had a bit of money, but it was running out. I decided I would look for a job on campus. I figured that the dining hall would be a fun place to work – it was close to my dorm and it paid higher than jobs at the libraries.

So I started working at the freshman dining hall – isolated on the north end of campus, away from the upperclassmen’s residence halls and the main instruction buildings – in my first semester at college.

Around the middle of my second semester, I was promoted to a Training Captain at the dining hall. I knew this meant that, next year, I would still be working at the same dining hall – even though I’d now have to walk twenty minutes from my new dorm instead of five (and my new dorm even had a dining hall of its own inside).

A semester or two later, I was promoted to Supervisor. This meant that I had to work more hours but that I also got paid more and had more responsibility – and since I liked my job, I thought that was great.

Of course, the semester I became a supervisor I was still living on campus. The next semester I would move off campus, and the twenty-minute walk would become a thirty-five-minute one. I wouldn’t complain – I love my job, largely because of the people and the fact that food service is more interesting than you’d think.

The only constant is change – and college

But I also think it’s interesting to note that when I was a freshman, I was just looking for a job. I anticipated finding a better job – maybe in an office somewhere, or even a library in town – sometime later in my undergraduate career; I had just needed a job in the moment, so I applied to work in the dining hall.

I think that the fact that I’ve stayed in that line of work for what’s going to be six semesters is a result of a few factors. I was loyal to the job. I liked the people and I liked the work most of the time. The hours and the pay were good. I would have felt bad about leaving. I didn’t really have any reason to leave.

So I stayed. And, again, I wouldn’t complain. I’ve been afforded a lot of friendships and opportunities through that job, actually. But if I’d known when I applied what I was getting myself into, would I have done anything differently?

So many things might go differently than you ever expected. It’s not like I’m trapped working in food service for the rest of my life. (Although, if I need a job so help pay off my student loans, it is one of my main areas of expertise in terms of actual work I’ve been paid to do.) But I certainly didn’t imagine just grabbing all of these promotion opportunities as they went by.

Situationism, achievement, and self-reflection

It’s easy to look around and find yourself in that situation and contextualize your achievements in that situation. I was promoted. Sure, it was a job I never planned on pursuing a promotion at, but it’s still a promotion.

How different is that from this? “I got a degree. Sure, maybe it wasn’t the degree I anticipated getting, or maybe it’s taken me further from the course of my ideals than I expected, but it’s still a degree.”

All I’m saying is, I hope you think about what you’re doing and where you’re going. I hope you try to figure out why you’re making the decisions you’re making, and what kinds of decisions your future self would want you to have made. Pressure can be a great motivator to think about these things.

Yes, you need to look after yourself in the moment. But you also need to think about how you’re going to feel in all of the moments to follow. Will you feel trapped? Pressured into making those moments something you might not want them to be?

As you pick between the colleges that accept you – or the ones you have yet to apply to – remember that you have a right to want things, and there are many ways to get to your goals. If one school denies you, you can adjust your path.
And if you figure out that you need to deny yourself the luxury of succumbing to peer pressure or the status quo, it’s never too late to adjust your path then, too. But pressure isn’t always necessarily a bad thing – as long as you’re aware of how you respond to influence, and where you want to go with your life.

Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler is a junior at Cornell University studying Performing and Media Arts and Psychology.As much as she loves writing for CollegeVine, she'd rather be astral projecting or watching The Office. She has too much fun writing bios like these for her own good.