Feature image from metro.co.uk.
If you had asked me what college I saw myself going to during September of senior year, I don’t think I would’ve had an answer for you. It’s a little late, I know – people are supposed to have their dream schools picked out by the summer before senior year.
Well, it wasn’t for lack of trying, at least: I had visited schools, I had looked up statistics, I had read almost too many alumni and current student accounts to keep track of. But the more information I got, the more indecisive I became. Every school seemed great, but none of them really felt “me” enough.
In the end, I forced myself to compile a final college list, but I still wasn’t perfectly happy with it. Yet somehow, in some way, I ended up perfectly happy where I am now, and I think there are some valid reasons for why you might just be okay even if you don’t completely know what you want from a college yet.
Reason A: Time passes, and your tastes can change.
From their late teens up until their mid-twenties, most people are in a state of constant change (am twenty, can confirm). There’s just so much that you’re learning about yourself every day, so even if you might not feel it, you’re always growing and adjusting, always trying on a new persona.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. But most people do change more and quickly during this period of time, so what you think you want in September might not be what you want at all in May.
Like, if I went back and looked at some of the criteria I used to evaluate colleges back when I was applying, I’d find some of them absolutely ridiculous.
For example, I had prioritized the UCs when applying because most of them had a sizeable Asian student plurality, and I felt that I’d be more comfortable among “my people.” But I chose a university with only a 17.1% Asian student body – a far cry from being the plurality – and think now that high school me was stupid for setting that criterion. I’ve been able to have so many interesting conversations with people of different cultural backgrounds, and it’s really broadened my view of the world.
I’d also prioritized the West Coast over the East Coast when applying since I never really seemed to like the East. I mean, I spent three whole summers in New Jersey and all I remember from that is humidity, mosquitoes, and jughandles. It doesn’t get any better than that, right?
(Plus, nothing beats California beaches.)
Well, I was wrong. I go to school in New York now. It snows. And rains. And is slightly humid in the summer. But the spring and fall make it all worth it. I’d never seen so many flowers or leaves in so many different colors, and as a SoCal native, the novelty of snow still hasn’t worn off yet. The first snow of the season still gets me really hyped up, and I’ll be running in it, rolling in it, and throwing it at people until spring comes around.
(And hey – the Hamptons aren’t bad in the summer. It’s not Huntington, Malibu, or Newport, but it’ll do.)
Reason B: College is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.
It’s true. Summer college, pre-frosh exposure programs, and college tours don’t count; those pale in comparison to what you’ll actually experience because at the end of the day, college isn’t just the next step in your education – it’s a lifestyle.
College doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. When you run down to 7-11 at 2 AM for cheese sticks? That’s college. When you get stuck waiting for the campus bus? Also college. Going to a local museum or concert on a weekend? College. Accidentally staying in a library past operating hours during finals week? College. Insomnia cookies and late night talks with your dorm-mates about nothing in particular? College.
The thing is, you’ll never know what the full college experience is like until you’ve actually been to college; it’s basically a four-year-long “had to be there” moment. So, making you choose the ideal place to have this experience while you’re only a high school senior can be a tall order.
Sure – you can kind of approximate things with statistics and other people’s experiences (and that can be helpful), but honestly, nobody knows what their college experience will actually be like before they’re actually a college student. Because before that, you won’t actually know, really, how to size up a college experience because you’ve never had anything to compare it against.
It’s like ordering from a restaurant you’ve never been to – you can read the menu and look at the pictures and skim the Yelp reviews all you want. But no amount of forecasting will compare to your own judgment when you actually take your first bite.
Reason C: Stockholm syndrome
All right, not actually. But if you talk to an alum of any college and ask them what they like the most about their school, a big part of their answer is probably going to be “the people I met there” or “the good times I had there.”
Both of these things are things that you can’t really gauge until you’ve committed to a college.
Truth be told, (for me, at least) a huge part of what actually makes for a memorable and enriching college life is the memories you make and the experiences you have. It’s not so much the class size or the student-faculty ratio or the school’s ranking or the location (although they can and do often matter), but what you’re adding onto your life experience.
As proof of concept – I’m typing this up right now and I can’t remember at all what my school’s student-faculty ratio is or the size of its endowment or how many libraries we have.
But I can remember the time when my friends staged an intervention because they thought I was working too hard and taught me to take care of myself. I remember joining the student newspaper because it was a dream I never realized in high school. I remember having to apologize for giving bad relationship advice and forcing my introvert self to finally speak up during discussions.
All things that U.S. News couldn’t care less about, but things that mean the world to me. And things that I had no way of knowing that I’d do until after I already matriculated.
I don’t mean that you should pick a school that looks absolutely repulsive on paper. But don’t be worried if you’re not in love with any school when you’re just looking around, because a large part of falling in love with a college is supposed to happen after you’re already a student.
To certain people, certain colleges have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that draws them in. They just know that these colleges are everything that they could’ve ever dreamed of and more at first sight. My roommate was one of these people, and she finds a new way that she’s in love with our school every single day.
It’s great if you’re one of those people, and I’m glad that you know what you want. But if you’re more like me – a little more hesitant, a little more unsure, and a little more indecisive, don’t worry. It’s definitely okay not to have your heart absolutely set on a certain school, and it’s okay if you have to play things by ear sometimes (I sure did).
It also helps to remember that this isn’t a one-way street — the college has to choose whether or not it’ll take you, and that also eliminates some of the doubt. These institutions have been around for a long time, and by now most of them know the type of person that’ll do best at their school. So if you are indeed chosen, it’s probably for a good reason.
As long as you’re patient with yourself and keep an open mind, you’ll also be able to find the alma mater that you’re perfectly satisfied with. It may be a bit of a process, but really – in my experience, at least, it’s one that’s very worth the wait.
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