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When I “fell in love” with the school I would eventually go to, it happened at first sight. But there’s a “decision” part of love, and that part? The certainty, the commitment, the attachment and affection? That could only happen with time.
I think that a lot of the debate around love at first sight occurs because contemplating the “at first sight” part makes us forget what the “love” part actually is. Love is by its nature a discovery, a choice, and often, a battle. (Even if the object of your love is an inanimate entity or an institution.)
No matter what you think, you can fall prey to forgetting what love, in general, actually is. We take “love-at-first-sight” as a unit, but the identity of that unit is owed largely to the “at first sight” part, as I said. And that part can often act in opposition to the way “love” actually operates.
I think that sometimes I expected to fall in love, at first sight, with one college or university or another. I was just expecting there to be a perfect fit out there, but what I forgot was that even if a school was a perfect fit, a soul mate per se, I might not feel certain about going there.
Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what happened. And you know from the title that I ended up applying to only one school, but there were two months between the time I fell in love with it and the time I decided I wanted to spend my next four years there.
When I fell in love with my school, it was for many reasons. Some of them were really silly, bordering on embarrassing. For example, I found this one bench near the beginning of an out-of-the-way wooded path, tucked between two stone pillars, almost out of sight.
I imagined myself reading there, watching anonymous feet traipse by, setting my pens and pencils down on mossy pillows. I don’t think I’ve studied there once in my time here (it’s really not an intuitive place to do so), but I plan to at some point because it connects me with the idealist who was convinced, years ago, that this was the place to nurture her idealism.
And by place I don’t even mean the university; I mean the bench. Your reasons can be as silly as that; you can fall in love with anything from the scenery to the academic calendar, anything from the attitude of your tour guide to the layout of the school’s website.
But that’s not enough to make you say, “This is where I’m going to school.” (Although for me it was embarrassingly close to enough.)
I did have some good reasons for falling in love with my school (although some proponents of “love at first sight” might argue that love is without reason, at least at first). I liked how approachable all of the students there were when I visited. I liked the campus. I liked the libraries.
I liked the climate and the fact that it was a few states removed from my hometown. It had the program I wanted and the campus food ranking was one of the highest in the country. There were so many good reasons, but all of them only added onto my initial impression; they didn’t form it.
The next part I had to tackle was dealing with how I felt. Every online source advised me to apply to at least seven schools, with varying combinations of safety, target, and reach schools. I wasn’t sure exactly what it would be like to attend any school, so I couldn’t just act on my initial infatuation.
Plus, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the commitment of applying ED to this school. Sure, I wanted to go there, it was probably my first choice, but that might change and I wanted to keep my options open.
I remember talking it through with my friend at lunch, months after my summer “college tour.” She was in the midst of applying to the plethora of state schools to which she’d have no problem getting accepted. Some had even offered her sports scholarships.
“I know I’d be so, so devastated if I didn’t get into Cornell,” I told her, thinking aloud. “And I know I really want to go to school there. Honestly, if I got accepted there, there’s no way I’d go anywhere else.”
The gravity of my comment hit me a second after it hit her, and as I muttered, “Hey, wait…” She said that it sounded like I was applying ED. I told her I hadn’t decided on doing that yet, but, in a sense, maybe I had.
During my next class period I sent a frantic all-caps email to my mom and dad. It started with, “I think I need to go to Cornell,” and then launched into a few lengthy paragraphs detailing why this wasn’t a rash, irresponsible choice, and why I really felt like my heart belonged there, and how if I got rejected ED there was still time to apply to other schools.
Luckily for me, their only response was, “That’s AWESOME!” Probably because there would be fewer application fees to cover, but I like to think it’s because of something my mom told me when we were visiting Cornell two months earlier.
My mom and I arrived on campus with my mom’s sister and her two children in tow. (My maternal grandfather attended Cornell.) They marveled at the trees and the buildings and the waterfalls. Cornell was the second-to-last stop on our college trip; we were going to visit the University of Michigan on the way home to northern Michigan.
Throughout the trip, my mom had remarked how she wished she had given more thought to choosing a college. She only applied to two, both of them relatively closer to home, one of them a larger school and one of them a smaller, private school.
As we stood taking pictures of the reservoir and waterfall like every other visiting high schooler who’s set foot on campus, my mom looked at me and said, “Sar, I hope you end up somewhere special.”
And this is where the “love” part comes in; in my case, it appeared considerably later than “at first sight.” I don’t really know if Cornell is the best school for me. I don’t know if it was a “good decision”; applying consisted of realizing, in a moment (and confirming over time) what I wanted. But I do know it’s special.
And the specialness comes from that first impression. But it also comes from every moment after that, and probably to a degree, every moment for the rest of my life. Making something special to you can happen instantaneously, but keeping it special long enough to make it a permanent fixture of your life story? That’s intentional.
And that, to me, is the love I have for the one school I applied to.
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