You’ve created your list of schools. There are some safeties, some reaches, some super reaches. You feel pretty good about all of them, except for one. There is one school that completely blows you away. You’d do anything to get in there, anything to afford it. The website is your most viewed page, you know the floor plan of your preferred residence hall by heart, and have all of your classes planned out. You just KNOW it’s where you are supposed to go, no question about it. But there is that ever looming doubt in the back your mind. Maybe it won’t work out. Maybe you won’t get in, or maybe the financial aid won’t come through. These are very real possibilities, and while it’s nice to be passionate about your future and to have a goal in mind, it’s more important to have perspective and protect yourself from unnecessary heart break.
It’s totally fine to have a top choice school. It’s fine to have a preference and be excited about a certain place. What isn’t okay is thinking that there is only one place that will be right for you, or that your entire future depends on some admissions office sending you a big envelope. It’s also not a great idea to idealize a school based purely on it’s ranking or participation in a specific athletic conference. So many high school students nowadays place huge amounts of pressure onto themselves to get into THE name brand school. They get caught up in the hype and forget that it’s the insides of a school that matter way more than the outsides (although a pretty campus never hurt anyone). Years before they even have to start filling out the Common App, they work themselves up into frenzies, calculating exactly how many B’s they can get and still have a shot at acceptance to the “perfect” school. It’s not healthy.
I say all of this from experience. I knew where I wanted to go my freshman year of high school (or at least I thought I did). I loved the location, the reputation, the size, the school spirit, the everything. I was obsessed. Not only that, but I was only seriously looking at school with acceptance rates below a certain percentage. The only thing I didn’t like was my chances at admission. I knew what the school looked for (thanks College Confidential), and I was lacking in certain important areas. I would sit in my room and wish that I went to an all boys Jesuit school, because they seemed to get into the school at a higher rate. I’m neither male nor religious, but it didn’t matter. This continued until the beginning of my junior year. My dad was watching college football one Saturday afternoon, and just seeing my dream school playing on the screen was way too much for me. I had to ask him to change it because it was making me so anxious.
At that moment, I took a step back. Initially, it was because I just didn’t think I would get in and I wanted to let myself down easily. This allowed me to start to look into more schools and to fall in love with a lot of them, including ones where I was all but guaranteed admission. I realized that a school didn’t have to reject most of it’s applicants to be a cool place to spend four years.
Fast forward to senior year, and I was pretty much in the same place. I loved a lot of schools, and while I still had a special place in my heart for my first dream school, lots of other schools had pretty much taken it’s place. I actually ended up almost not applying to it, and when I did, I ended up on the wait-list, which I was actually okay with. But I know that if I had continued on the same path that I was on during freshman year, I would have been absolutely crushed. The admissions season was hard enough as it was without having a dream school.
The truth about dream schools is that they don’t really exist. There are going to be flaws wherever you go, but there will be really stellar things too. It honestly is all about your attitude and making where you are into the dream. As I’ve written previously, I never imagined I’d end up where I’ve ended up, but so far it’s been as close to perfect as I could have hoped for.
So fall in love with a school, but don’t fall in love with just one school. Don’t get your heart firmly set on eating in a specific dining hall or studying in a certain library. While I don’t advocate for polygamy, having an open relationship with colleges certainly isn’t a bad idea. I promise that the roller coaster of college admissions is going to be nightmarish no matter what, but don’t make it worse for yourself by adding the extra pressure of feeling like you need to get into a certain school. Have some fun, shop around, find a really cool place that no one’s ever heard of that you know you’ll excel at. Look through alternative rankings or creep through college prowler, and most importantly, love thy safety and love thyself.