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Image from Pexels

I wish I could tell you that I ended up at the University of Rochester because I’ve wanted it since I was four. I wish I could even tell you that I ended up here because it was the best choice I could have made. No, my college journey was a collection of stupid mistakes and assumptions (like when you write 6+7=15 on a math test, but instead you’re impacting the rest of your life), and the reason I’m here right now is because I’m luckier than I deserve.

But let’s start at the beginning.

When I started my journey to college as a high school sophomore, I didn’t know very much about what I wanted in a college. Private or public? City or small town? Big or small? I didn’t even know my pants size. All I knew was that I wanted a college that wasn’t in my home state, Arizona.

As it turns out, a lot of schools fit that criteria. I ended up with a list of twenty-two schools that I tried to cut down to ten (and ended up with twenty-seven because this thing was like the hydra–every time I removed a school, two more took its place). I wasn’t absolutely in love with all of them, but I was hardcore crushing on a few. Mostly for bad reasons. Case Western is a wonderful school, but I basically only had them on my list because they would give me credit for my AP Human Geo test, and I had read somewhere that there was really good Italian food nearby. Juniata College was my top-choice for a while, and while it’s, again, an excellent school, Lobsterfest was probably 75% of the reason I applied. And then there was New York University.

I adored NYU. I wanted to get out of Arizona, and New York City was basically the least-Arizona place I could imagine. (Keyword: “imagine.” I had never been to New York City.) I just loved the city–or the idea of it, at least–and I wanted so badly to be part of it, to have the opportunities that you could never get anywhere else. A large part of this obsession probably came from watching 30 Rock, as if moving to New York City might turn me into Liz Lemon. But there was so much more to it: NYU had a school of math, and I was planning to be a math major, maybe. NYU had study abroad. NYU had Spider-Man! (Note: NYU does not have Spider-Man. NYU had Donald Glover, who will be Spider-Man.) (Oh, and Grant goes there!)

But when I cut my list to ten, NYU had to go. It wasn’t because I’d outgrown my crush on it; it was because I was poor. NYU came with a price tag and not a lot of financial aid. I didn’t think I could afford it, and it would have hurt so much more to be accepted and have to say no. I said goodbye to NYU and looked forward to my new first-choice: Juniata. Because of the lobster.

A few developments during my senior year made me reorder my list.

First, I learned from my school that I was a National Merit Semifinalist. This meant–besides the fact that I’m really great at bubbling in bubbles in the right order–that I, potentially, could get money. Lots of it. Semifinalists can get full-tuition from Fordham, and National Merit Scholars can get a full-ride from the University of Oklahoma. I mean, dang.

Then, I re-discovered the University of Rochester. It wasn’t until I actually started writing my admissions essays that I realized why it was basically perfect. The open curriculum, the Take Five program, the ASL program, the school motto (meliora: “ever better”), and its close proximity to New York City… (Warning: Rochester is not actually close to New York City. New York State is a large state, and not all of it is NYC.) Eventually, it even beat out Juniata for the top spot. That’s right–I wanted this school more than lobster.

Some time in December, Fordham sent me not only an acceptance letter but an invitation to visit Fordham. All-expense paid. Broadway show included. Holy moly. I went, I saw New York City in person for the first time, I saw A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and I knew that New York City was the best city in the world. Fordham was looking pretty good, now, too.

But how was I looking? On the whole, a lot better than I deserved. I applied to two in-state schools as safeties. They both accepted me…and I basically didn’t care because, as I said, I was holding out for some far-away college to love me. I applied to three schools Early Action and five schools Regular Decision, and though it would be a more satisfying conclusion to this narrative if they’d all rejected me and I’d learned to be happy with a school in Arizona, none of them rejected me. I told myself that the two that had waitlisted me had done so because I was overqualified. Regardless, I declined a spot on their waitlists–if they liked it then they should’ve put an acceptance on it–and looked at my remaining eight options.

I struck a few because I simply wasn’t interested anymore or because the financial aid was simply not sufficient. That included Fordham, since full tuition did not include room and board and textbooks and all that jazz. That left me with the University of Rochester and the University of Oklahoma. And that was hard.

Even though it might seem stupid–and, let’s not spare my feelings, it is–I disliked OU on principle. Sure, they treated their National Merit Scholars pretty nicely, and I would have paid basically nothing as an out-of-state student. Yes, pretty much all of my AP credit would have transferred over and, like, meant something. But I didn’t want them to be able to buy me, especially when the thing that gave me value was a multiple-choice test. At the same time, Rochester was definitely not trying to buy me…but open curriculum! And meliora! And it’s so close to New York City!

So I did what any logical person would do: I asked Tumblr what they thought.

I only got two responses. One was a short message with a link to a list of extremely strong dislikes. The other was a 5-part love letter. Both were about Rochester. Well, gee, I thought, that was helpful. As April 1 got closer, I got serious anxiety about which one I would choose. And there’s no point in trying to drag it out; I chose Rochester, as you can see from the title.

Maybe I chose it for the wrong reasons. I’m going to advise you right now to not overlook finances when you’re looking at college because even though you may be pure and above money, the rest of civilization and reality hasn’t really caught up with you yet. I’m also going to advise you to not pick a college because it’s six hours from anything. Or because the only people on Tumblr who tried to help you also went to this college.

But even if you don’t listen to me–because if you’re anything like me, you won’t–you’ll be fine. You’ll still be happy. You’ll get involved, you’ll get a campus job, you’ll take the greatest math class of your life, you’ll meet the nicest people you ever thought you could meet, you’ll see fluffy white things fall from the sky, you’ll be so tired and so cold but so happy that you made this decision, even if it might have been for the wrong reasons, and you’ll close your eyes every night feeling like the luckiest idiot in the world.

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the author

Gabrielle Scullard hails from suburban Arizona, where she is a senior at a public high school. She spends most of her life taking AP classes and crying about her future. When she is not stressing out about school, she plays viola (it’s like a violin but better) and signs in an American Sign Language choir (it’s like a vocal choir but better). She wants to be a superhero, but an internship at The Prospect is basically the same thing. She hopes her writing can help someone or, at least, make someone smile. You can find her on her Tumblr or at home, but she would prefer it if you didn't do either of those things.

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