You’ve known your dream school forever. Really. You visited campus during your freshman year of high school and were swept off your feet, falling hopelessly in love. You started planning your involvements there shortly afterwards. You even have pictures of you wearing the college’s merch as a baby. You just know, without a doubt in your mind, that your dream school is the place for you. But before you make any major decisions, re-evaluate that college. It sounds ridiculous, I know. There could not be a more perfect place for you. Except, as much as you don’t believe it, there could be.
When you pick out a dream school early on (or even later on), you sometimes make that college into something that it isn’t and you start to overlook other schools that could offer similar or better programs. In your mind, that school is your dream school. But that “dream” could also be entirely inside your head. Think about what you love about the school. Is it something specific that the school has? Or is it something that you could find somewhere else? Do you like the school or do you like the job you think the school could provide you with? While job placement is important, going to a certain college will not guarantee you job placement. Do you like the school because of actual experiences or knowledge or because of how you’ve imagined your life there?
Personally, I was obsessed with my “dream school” for a couple of years, but when I started to think about it more, I realized that everything I liked about the college was imagined. I pictured myself getting involved in specific clubs, going on study abroad trips though the university, and walking around sporting the school colors. I imagined my dream world there and then convinced myself that my dream world could only exist within that dream school. All schools offer clubs. If the clubs you’re interested in joining don’t exist at a certain school, you can start them. All schools have colors that you will grow to love. All schools have campuses that you will find beauty within.
Though a school may seem to have everything you want, it may seem that way because you’ve spent all of this time convincing yourself it’s everything you want and not looking at other schools. When I was set on going to my “dream school,” I didn’t pay attention to other options because I was absolutely certain that I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Then, (surprise, surprise), I realized that I wanted to go somewhere else.
Maybe the school seemed perfect when you originally decided it was your “dream school.” However, a lot can change in a few years, even if you don’t notice the changes. It’s important to go back and look at what you truly love about the school, even if you still end up thinking it’s your dream school.
Make a list of all of the characteristics you like about the school. First, think about whether or not any of those characteristics are unique to that school. Then, think about why those characteristics are important to you. Analyzing “why” is the hardest part. When I went through this process, it took me a while to admit that the only answer I had to the “why” was the prestige. If you can’t truly answer the “why” (aside from thinking ‘it’s a good school’ or ‘it has a high ranking’), then you should start to at least consider other options. You don’t have to completely disregard the school, but you should compare it with other schools. You’d be surprised by the number of schools that may actually seem like better fits for you.
Ultimately, your “dream school” will not give you your dream world. We often try to connect the two, but really, you’re the one who can create your dream world. No school will create it for you. The world that you’ve imagined will not exist without any work on your part and there is no campus that you can step onto and have all of your dreams come true.
The truth is that your dream school may just be a dream. Not because you can’t get in. Not because it’s a bad school. Not because you can’t accomplish amazing things there (you can do that anywhere!). But because everything you’ve associated with that dream school is part of your own goals and dreams and aspirations. And those don’t exist at a college. They exist within you. Though you may not realize it now, there may be an even better college for you to go to and make your goals come to life.
You don’t have to tear up your Harvard sweatshirt baby pictures. You don’t have to toss out your application or make an impulsive decision or completely doubt everything you’ve ever thought. But re-evaluating your dream school and taking the time to look elsewhere will bring you closer to understanding your dreams and the steps you plan to take to achieve them.