During my much-discussed Peachwave tenure in our lovely town center, I was also working as a product insights manager at College Factual, a college search engine and ranking service startup that looks at data in new ways to ensure a positive return on investment. Too many college ranking sites benefit colleges and universities who often manipulate data to maximize marketing value. College Factual aims to change that, and recently partnered with Chegg.

The job duties of a euphemistically named product insights manager are essentially testing beta services, providing feedback, and working with product development. The most intensive part of the job was sitting at a table with two other high-performing girls as the College Factual product developer, programmer, and content writer picked our teen brains to discover how we interacted with the site, the services we wished it provided, and the ideas we had for marketing this to our generation. When we talked about what we were looking for in a college and what we want to get out of the experience, I noticed how profoundly living in Wilton affected my choices.

I wanted something small, close to my parents, and most of all friendly and passionate. In high school I love recognizing faces in the hall and saying hi to people, I love the clubs’ posters on the walls and the lacrosse apparel. I like how there are these absurd shared experiences — we all read Harrison Bergeron, watched the same talent shows, went through a Kid Cudi phase, stopped eating high fructose corn syrup when that study came out.

Wilton is a great place to come from. I’m not quite ready to leave the comfort of a small enclosed space with friendly, familiar people, which is one of the reasons why I chose to attend Babson College next year. (To save you the trouble of Googling, Babson is ranked 58th overall on College Factual, but number one in my heart!) In the coming weeks many regular decision results come out, and my classmates will be making some tough decisions. While I empathize with them, I certainly do not envy the stress they must feel.

That college question pervades every aspect of a high school senior’s life — teachers, relatives, peers, local baristas, everyone’s curious — what are you doing next year? I’m tired of talking about college, like when you say a word or your name out loud too many times and it’s just a string of meaningless shapes.

And what about after? Now that my college question is answered, I’m going to hold off on brainstorming any potential paths. I’m moving to Colorado to work on a ranch for the summer, hopefully for a lesson in self-discovery, transcendentalism and perhaps horseback riding. The promise that these next few months will be my last months in Wilton refuses to set in. Nonetheless, the grind is done: I must get hungry, get lost, talk to a few strangers, blast country music, etc.

I’m challenging myself to adopt Francie Nolan’s mindset in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. ... And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”


Olivia Phelan is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.