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I remember that at the beginning of my freshman year of high school one of my older friends told me, “I think you’d like William and Mary,” and that I had a fairly negative reaction. At my ultra-competitive high school, even great state schools were sneered at for no apparently good reason. However, I really had very little conception of where exactly I wanted to go to college. There was an extremely vague list of “good” schools in my head, and like most high school freshmen, I thought that Harvard looked pretty sweet. But college was much more of an abstraction than a reality for my first two years of high school, even while other kids fixated on certain schools.

That’s not to say that I didn’t care about my grades or getting into college. In fact, my experience was entirely the contrary. I had the good fortune to go to one of the best high schools in the country, and I guess I was never worried about being seen as not fit academically. Even just being average at my high school gave you a good chance of getting into a top fifty U.S. News school, including Virginia’s awesome state schools. But I honestly didn’t think about college rankings or where I would apply for the first half of high school.

My freshman year sailed by. I was involved in the drama department. I was in a musical. I was on the track team in the Spring. I continued the dance classes that I’d taken my whole life. My grades were pretty solid, and I had some great friends.

Sophomore year was not so hot. I joined another sports team at the beginning of the year, which sucked up a ton of my time. Several of my classes were much harder than I was used to, and I ended up with some not-so-awesome grades. I dropped some activities, and began to worry a little too much about what my extracurricular section would look like on college apps. Eventually I pulled through, found some good clubs, and the year ended with me taking two SAT subject tests. I was still confident that I would get into some good colleges, based on the fact that my high school had a pretty high level of difficulty.

Junior year was far better. Besides a few difficult subjects, for the most part, I did really well. I started studying early for the SATs with my old math tutor, ended up taking it three times, and eventually got a score that I was very happy with. The third time I mysteriously did extremely well, which made me feel much more confident about my chances since I had a fairly average GPA for a high-achieving student. I took two more SAT subject tests, and began to attempt to compile my college list. My brother attended the University of Virginia and loved it, so it quickly became my dream school.

My senior year started off relatively smoothly. I was still grappling with which schools to apply to, but I eventually settled on larger schools that had good environmental science programs and that didn’t have terrible weather. I only ever officially visited one school, Tufts University, which I didn’t even end up applying to. I simply decided to visit the colleges that I applied to if I got in, which, in retrospect, created a bit of a rush at the end.

I finally applied to twelve schools, which in this day and age is really not so bad. Three of them were University of California schools, meaning that I really only filled out nine applications while paying the application fees of twelve schools. One school, Northeastern University, didn’t have a supplement, so I only filled out seven supplements. Overall, the workload wasn’t too bad, although I could probably have narrowed down my options if I had been more realistic about where I would actually attend. It also would have saved me a ton of application fees. As for the actual applications, I started working on my essays fairly early, but being an indecisive person, I wrote far too many essays and spent a long time agonizing over which ones would be the best to use. In the end, however, I was pretty happy with all of my essays. Then began the waiting game.

I got into my three safety schools early, and got a very large scholarship at one of them. I would’ve been fine with attending all three schools, but they were still very expensive for schools that I considered to be safety schools. I hadn’t heard back from UVA or the College of William and Mary, both of which I considered “match” schools and were considerably cheaper than any of my other options. UVA, however, was my dream school. I had been to the campus several times to visit my brother, and I loved it. I thought that it was beautiful and the perfect size and just the right distance from home. William and Mary, not so much. But honestly, I knew very little about the school, and I based a lot of my opinion of it off of what I had heard in high school, much of which was inaccurate.

As I applied to most schools regular decision, the results poured in all at once in late March. I didn’t get into one of my mid-range schools, but I wasn’t really upset at all. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get into Harvard or Duke. I think I actually laughed when I read the Harvard rejection letter.

I didn’t laugh when I read the UVA rejection letter. My dream school didn’t want me. By this point, I had warmed up a little to William and Mary, but still. For two years I had been dreaming of going to UVA, but now it seemed I never would. A few days later, I got into William and Mary, and I thought well, okay, so I’ll go to William and Mary, and think about transferring to UVA. It seemed that if I couldn’t get into UVA, then I wasn’t going to get into UC Berkeley or UNC Chapel Hill, my other reach schools.

But sometimes life throws you curve balls, and I was soon deciding between Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill, and William and Mary. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that I would end up at the absolutely drop-dead-beautiful campus of the College of William and Mary. But as everyone knows, hindsight is 20/20. I agonized over the differences between Berkeley, UNC, and William and Mary, and I eventually decided to visit UNC and William and Mary as they were the closest to home. I still hadn’t decided on whether or not to visit Berkeley; I wasn’t sure that I wanted to fly out to California and back that often.

When I finally visited William and Mary, I absolutely loved it. Everyone was just so nice. And I mean really, really nice. We got lost driving close to campus when I was trying to go to a lecture, and when we stopped to ask a girl for directions, she offered to walk me to my class. This type of friendliness seemed to be fairly regular throughout the campus, even though it wasn’t Admitted Students Day, when I assumed the students would be nicer.

We continued driving down to UNC, which I also liked. I had wanted a larger school, and UNC did offer me that. With that came a more sports-focused vibe, which I didn’t love as much as I thought I would. UNC overall seemed like a really good school, but not necessarily one that was worth the extra out-of-state tuition when I had a school like William and Mary to pick from. And in the end, I didn’t even visit Berkeley. Distance was a big factor, but so was the extra tuition. It was a difficult decision, but in the end I’m glad that I chose to stay in-state and attend a school that gave me a helping hand and a welcoming smile before I even stepped onto campus.

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