Your first piece of college mail is like a beautiful, heartfelt love letter that leaves you feeling great about yourself. As far as you’re concerned, the college basically handwrote it and dotted the i’s with hearts. That is, until you realize that the college sent the exact same letter to all of your friends (ugh, the letter told you that you were special and it was all a lie!).
Of course, college mail can be pretty convincing regardless. You might blow off the school that sent the exact same letter to everyone you know, thinking clearly they’re not that picky, but other schools know exactly how to draw you in.
During your junior and senior years of high school, trips to the mailbox are important. You probably started getting college mail before then, especially if you took the PSAT or another standardized test, but once you get older, it feels significantly more important. You’re basically getting postcards and brochures from potential places to live for four years; what could be more important?!
A lot of things. A lot of things could be more important. But when I was in high school, I thought college mail was everything. When I received mail from schools that I considered prestigious, I would feel like the coolest person ever, even though I couldn’t actually remember if I “requested information” from those schools. I probably did. I went through this college-obsessed phase that lasted for about three years, and I probably requested information from every school in the United States and Canada, but that’s not the point. I still had let myself think that these colleges specifically sent me these love letters. I fell for pretty much everything, too. When a college sent me something that had my name actually printed on it like, “Paige, you belong here,” I had to at least look that college up. Of course I did; we were on a first name basis!
One school sent me something about the local music scene there and I felt like they knew me. Another sent me a holiday card, so we were basically family, or at the very least, close friends.
I was especially enthralled by artsy photography. If I got college mail that looked like it came straight from a popular Instagram account, I was pretty much in love. The mail told me to “see myself there,” and I so could. I spent all of my time “seeing myself there.” I had a weakness for city photography, probably because I lived in a small town. I thought any picture with the slightest hint of a skyscraper on it was my golden ticket out of my hometown. This caused me to start many, many applications for city schools without much research at all, but I didn’t actually finish any of them (seriously, I kept getting calls from numerous schools that said, “you didn’t finish your application; do you need help?”) I did need help, but not with finishing those applications.
The truth is that I needed help figuring myself out. I shouldn’t have been so easily persuaded by a flimsy piece of paper sent to tons of other students. One day, I’d want to go to a state school. The next, I’d want to go to a private school in a big city. I was all over the place, and I ended up impulsively applying to two public colleges that weren’t even in my state. Why? Because of college mail. Really.
Despite my constant confusion about what I was looking for in a college, I only applied to public colleges. I started many other applications, yes. But when I tried to actually fill them out, I realized that I did not have it in me to write a love letter back. I couldn’t actually come up with any reasons why I wanted to go to those schools, aside from artsy photography and false expectations and city lights and pretty scenery and personalized messages that said, “you’re talented, Paige.” I wasn’t about to write a college essay that said, “well, I like you because you’re really pretty and you said you loved me.”
I quit applying to colleges after November 1st, but I kept getting mail until after all application deadlines had passed. For the most part, I ignored it. It became easier to ignore, mostly because I got emails that were like, “dear firstname lastname.” They didn’t even like me enough to figure out my name.
Eventually, in the midst of this chaos, I found a school that I loved and I did not use any college mail to come to that conclusion. Looking at college mail is a great way to learn more information about colleges or discover new colleges, but it’s not so great for making decisions.
The truth is that you can belong at lots of different places.
The truth is that you can be successful in lots of different places.
The truth is that you can find yourself anywhere. But not in a pile of college mail. I learned that you’re going to have go out in the world and figure that out yourself; every college will try to tell you that you belong there, but only you can determine that, no matter how enticing the college’s slogans and messages are.
I still have my “golden ticket” college mail in a box somewhere. But it was foolish to think that a college could get me out of here and get me absolutely everything I wanted. No place is going to accomplish all of your dreams for you. No place is going to take you exactly where you want to go.
I am my golden ticket.
You are your golden ticket.
So don’t just “see yourself there,” in a magical city where you can accomplish all of your dreams. Go there, be there, live there, no matter what college you go to or what town you live in.