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Whether it’s a best-friendship, a romantic relationship, a bond of literal brother or sisterhood, or an integral mentorship, your relationships with the people you knew in high school can be an important consideration in – and even a strain on – your college application process.
Almost no one is exempt from this. My friends and I all went through iterations of this struggle when we – or people we were close to – applied to college. Sometimes the endings were picture-perfect, sometimes less so, but they all made for great stories that told us something about surviving stressful times.
As if! The problem of being “held back”
When my best friend came back from a college trip on which she visited about half a dozen schools, she was excited to tell her boyfriend at the time how psyched she was about this one school (spoiler, it’s the one she ended up going to).
But she was also nervous. Her boyfriend was a year ahead of her in school, and he already knew where he was going to college. Which meant she knew exactly how long of a long distance relationship they’d be looking at if she got into this university. And it was pretty long.
Still, she was excited. She thought he would be excited for her and that they would figure out what it meant for their relationship as they went along. Who knew what it would actually feel like to be in a long distance relationship?
On that note, it helped that he was going to college a year before she was. That way, they could have the distance experience down for a year before she moved even farther away. Plus, that way they wouldn’t each be freshmen at the same time.
(She told me that she was worried that if they both experienced this “newfound freedom” at the same time it would make them both ambivalent about being in a relationship at all, so it was good that they each got time to adjust to the change on their own.)
I remember being super proud of her, because she made her decision before she even talked to her boyfriend – she was going to apply to this school, and if accepted, she was going to go there. She wasn’t ditching her boyfriend, but she wasn’t being held back, either.
I wished her good luck over a text when she told me she was going over to his house to talk to him about it. When I didn’t hear from her for the rest of the night I got a little worried, wondering if something had gone wrong.
At about one in the morning she called me. I was just about to fall asleep, but she asked if she could sleep over. She didn’t sound too upset, but I wondered why she wouldn’t want to just go back to her house this late. I started a K-cup of chai tea just in case.
When she got to my house I couldn’t read her expression, so I just burst out, “How was it?” And she laughed. I don’t know if that was the reaction I was expecting, but I must have looked shocked, because she assured me that it wasn’t traumatic at all, and the conversation had actually gone as well as it could have.
“He told me not to let him hold me back,” she said, and I laughed, too. Because, as she added, “As if that would happen.” We laughed a little more, and after a bit, she did start crying. Growing up is hard.
It’s hard to realize that letting someone hold on to you so tightly that you aren’t free isn’t healthy. It’s hard to step out into the world and try to hang onto the old, but ultimately let the cards fall where they may. But responding maturely to difficult situations is a skill that has served my friend well all her life.
And she and her boyfriend ended up staying together. I think that having someone who will love and support you, no matter how far away you are, is really important in any college student’s – or college applicant’s – life.
Reaching? Settling? Do you have to settle for one or the other?
Considering all of the implications when applying to college can really weigh you down, mentally and emotionally. Even if it ends up working out, like it did for my best friend, it’s hard to live knowing you weren’t the only one responsible for your own choice.
Another girl I know – we’ll call her Olivia – was a social butterfly in high school. She was friends with almost everyone, and she was involved in just about every club the school offered. With her extracurricular roster and academic, she’d have no trouble getting into a great school.
But most of the girls from her friend group had already been admitted, on a rolling basis, to a state school a few hours away from our hometown. This didn’t help Olivia, since she had to wait until December at the earliest for some of her decisions. Some weren’t scheduled to come until as late as March or April.
At first she said it didn’t really bother her, but wading through the college acceptance posts on Facebook and Instagram and watching her close friends drown in college gear eventually took its toll.
She said that she was going to submit an application to the school her friends were attending, just so she could say she got in somewhere. In addition to wanting to be with her friends, applying to a more safety-level school was a good way for her to destress while she waited anxiously for the more high-stakes applications to be reviewed.
I remember talking to her in December and asking her how her application to [insert big-name school here] was coming along, and she casually responded, “Oh, I decided not to apply there. I don’t think the application fee is worth the likelihood that I’ll get in.”
I shrugged it off until her mother ran into me at a basketball game and asked me worriedly if Olivia had said anything about her college applications. I shrugged and told her that I only knew she’d decided not to apply to a few. Her mother nodded and didn’t say another word – she just looked worried.
Sometime in February, before the regular admissions decisions even came in, Olivia posted on Facebook that she had committed to the state school she’d been accepted to in the fall. There was nothing but congratulations on her Facebook wall. In the halls, I heard a few people talking about how they’d expected her to go to [Big Engineering School]. Nothing much else was said.
Now Olivia looks happy. Her Instagram feed is full of parties and friends, and it seems like she’s doing great academically. Does she feel challenged? Who can say. Does she feel fulfilled? Probably enough. You never really know what would have happened.
I do know that her mother always had “higher hopes” for her. She doesn’t like talking about the fact that Olivia goes to a state school, which frustrates me a lot, especially if Olivia truly is happy there.
It’s less about “reaching” or “settling” than it is about deciding what’s important to you in life. If comfort is more important to you than prestige, listen to yourself. Some environments are more nurturing than competitive; some are more strange than familiar.
There are benefits to pursuing both, and Olivia had to decide which environment she would function best in. Some people might say that she sold out, that you shouldn’t let relationships influence your college decisions, but I don’t think there is a should or a shouldn’t.
I hope Olivia’s mom comes around and realizes that Olivia did what was best for her, and that’s all you can really ask of a college applicant.
Overcorrections, Anonymity, and Autonomy
That being said, I went to a school where no one knew my name. The last graduate of my high school to attend my college graduated over a decade ago. I wanted something new, something fresh, something exciting, and above all, I didn’t want to look back and wonder if I’d made my college decision out of fear of the unknown.
Again, some might call that an overcorrection – a sell-out of its own. But ultimately, what Olivia, my best friend, and I all realized was that only we have to answer for our choices. And while that can make decision-making seem a little more high-stakes, it also removes a lot of stress at the end of the day.
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