Featured image from emersonprep.org
In one of my psychology classes, we learned that it’s better to give consumers a small but solid range of options, rather than a wide and varied assortment of products. The latter is likely to overload them and make them less likely to choose anything to buy at all.
What does this mean? For one thing, there are entire careers devoted to the way a supermarket sales display can make you a billionaire by manipulating the minds of others (okay, maybe not, but it’s not a huge stretch).
Apparently, the college community didn’t get the memo. Whether it’s choosing which colleges to apply to, or, once you get to college, selecting from the onslaught of extracurricular opportunities, the college application experience can be sensory overload.
It’s made worse by the fact that the difficult decisions surrounding college are imbued with some sort of intrinsic sense of importance, so it’s not like going to the store and picking the right frying pan from among sixty varieties of frying pans — it’s more like going to the store and picking the right future from a literally infinite selection.
So some of the stress doesn’t even come from the perceived “seriousness” of the decision; a lot of the anxiety comes from the sheer (seeming) impossibility of it.
Luckily, although the choice is difficult, there are some aspects of the college experience that remain stable and take a little bit of the pressure off of the whole process. Certainly every school is unique and offers a unique set of opportunities, but there are certain experiences that you can look forward to at pretty much any college or university.
It’s nice to keep these in mind sometimes, because it makes the whole admissions process seem less like a matter of life and death.
One of the family
First, at every college, you get the opportunity to meet and live with other people. Often, these are people you’ve never met before, but maybe some of your close friends from high school decided to get a dorm or an apartment together.
Either way, this will be a new adventure, because, speaking from experience, even if you grew up with siblings you might not be prepared for life with roommates, suitemates, or housemates.
One one hand, they’re not bound by bonds of blood or familial love to treat you with any sort of respect or consideration. On the other hand, they want to get along and be well-liked in their first weeks and months out on their own. You can look forward to meeting new people, making small talk, and possibly discovering that one person is from the same state or town as you and someone else is from a different country.
Friends: the other extracurricular
In college more than anywhere else in life so far, I encountered people based on similar interests. I got to interact with people who had chosen the same elective classes or the same major. In college, lifestyle becomes a self-selection process.
You’ll find dorm-mates who like sleeping and waking at the same hours as you (it doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but some of my deepest friendships have been forged this way). You’ll go out to eat with people who like similar foods. On the other hand, you’ll be exposed to people with completely opposite interests, and have the opportunity to broaden your view on living life.
Living with people is exciting because it provides the most basic shared experience to everyone involved. It gives you your first college Facebook friends. It lets you dip your toes into college culture.
Maybe most importantly, though, it helps you learn to compromise with others, to deal with difficult situations, and to practice patience and cooperative living. No matter where you go to school, you can count on this valuable experience.
I have to say “finding yourself” – and it’s true
You’ll also have a new level of autonomy. This can mean anything from choosing what to eat and when to sleep to choosing what to study and when to go to class. It’s a little bit of trial and error, a little bit of over-exercised caution, and a little bit of calculated (or not-so-calculated) disarray.
This is one of the things that defines the college experience: “finding yourself.” And although you may prefer to look for yourself at one college more than another, the search can be conducted anywhere you go.
Join the club
Every college is going to provide you with clubs and extracurriculars to join. One of the best parts about this is the gradient of seriousness: you can join an intramural sports team that’s entirely for fun, or you can walk into your first quiz bowl practice and realize that you might have thought you played quiz bowl in high school, but you didn’t. Not like this.
You can stay up until 4 A.M. and eat cheesecake for dinner. This is probably the most important part of college, because it teaches you why you should never, ever eat cheesecake for dinner, but at the same time… You get to eat cheesecake for dinner! That’s the dream!
In all honesty, though, you’ll make so many questionable health and lifestyle choices in college, and it’s because in college, you can get away with them. You’re young and your body hasn’t yet begun punishing you for your irresponsibility. And embracing that fact is something that is uniquely possible at college — any college.
You can look forward to being challenged and accepted at the same time. You can look forward to both finding and becoming one of your “people” — the ones who get you and whose friendships you’ll treasure for your whole life.
You’ll take classes you’ve never heard of before, and you’ll take classes that remind you of things you probably should have remembered from high school. (Oh, well.) You’ll explore a new town and for four years, you’ll call a new place home.
You’ll remember weird traditions and nicknames for buildings way better than you’ll remember half of the material from your major. You’ll have the opportunity to join something like Bread Club (to date, one of the best decisions of my life).
And no matter where you go, you’ll learn. You’ll grow. You’ll be enriched by your experience if you choose to take advantage of it. And that choice will be yours, no matter where you end up.
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