The single most stressful part of spring semester senior year was making my final college decision–picking the “right college.”
I’d gotten into eight schools and had narrowed it down to three: University of Oklahoma, Fordham University, and University of Rochester. As a National Merit Semifinalist, my best financial option was the University of Oklahoma, which I liked because it took all my AP credits and had a 5-year program that would give me a bachelor’s in math as well as a master’s in something called biostatistics. At the same time, I’d visited beautiful Fordham in New York City, and the University of Rochester’s open curriculum and school motto (Meliora, or “ever better”) called to me…but I’d have to take loans to go to either of them.
I spent weeks making pros-and-cons lists, stalking Facebook pages, imagining my life in in any of these places, making up my mind, changing it, bursting into tears because I was so confused, and all the while, the deadline to submit my enrollment deposit crept closer, palm outstretched for a decision that I had no clue how to make. But a few weeks before the deadline, I was talking to my sign language teacher, and she told me the secret to making the right choice:
Make a Choice
That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
“Hold on,” you might protest, “some colleges are clearly better than others. Not all of them can be good choices.” And that’s true, but you’re not going to pick a bad college. Presumably, you’ve already ruled them out, whether during the application process or during your manic “I NEED TO CHOOSE” episode(s). If there is no benefit to going to school X, then don’t even consider it if you have other options.
You might have a school you’re not excited about at all but are considering because it’s nice on your wallet, which is perfectly valid. You might have a dream school that won’t be good to your wallet which is, again, a perfectly valid option. But in the end, your final list needs to include only the schools that 1) you can see yourself attending, and 2) you can see yourself affording.
And once you have that final list, all that remains is to pick one.
Why You’re Going to Make the Right Decision
In the end, I picked Rochester, which was absolutely the right decision.
Colleges aren’t identical, and freshman experiences aren’t identical, but for the most part, I’m going to go ahead and claim that it’s not going to matter where you go to college because, first, freshmen are all the same.
They’re afraid, they’re ready for a new adventure, they’re lonely, they’re trying to become who they’re supposed to be, and they’re desperate for friendship. Some people have a tough time making friends freshman year, but eventually, everyone adjusts and finds their place.
And that’s the thing: No matter where you go, I guarantee there’s a place for you. You’re going to fit somewhere. You’re going to find people with similar interests. You’re going to make friends. And it’ll happen no matter where you go. I visited Fordham and met a group of people I really liked, but I felt just as welcome when I came to Rochester. You might not make the same friends, but you’re going to find people that make you think you made the right choice after all.
But the most important factor is you.
I’m not the person I was when I was seventeen, and a big part of it is my experience in Rochester. The version of me who picked Fordham instead and the version of me who picked Oklahoma are significantly different from the version of me sitting here and typing this article in my dorm room in Rochester.
I imagine that Fordham-me is a little more cultured, has seen Hamilton, has gone to protests, is both in love with and infuriated by the core curriculum, has perhaps been drawn away from math and is majoring in something like creative writing or social work…or even something like economics, because maybe this is the version of me that doesn’t hate economics (though I doubt it).
The Oklahoma version of me has a little more money in my pocket, doesn’t have to get a job, is probably way ahead in my studies, has probably taken more applied math than pure math courses, and probably has a better idea of what I want to do with my life with whatever “biostatistics” is.
But the version of me typing this article–an environmentalist who wants to be a pure mathematician, who fills her time with as many jobs as she can, who still misses sunshine but loves the snow–belongs in Rochester.
And in two years, the version of you who chose wherever you chose, will belong wherever you are, too. And you’ll be glad that you made the right decision.