I Failed to Listen to Myself When Choosing a School

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Let’s face it, we all try to please the ones who care about us most—make them proud, get that check in the mail, be written about in the local paper—anything to get that pat on the back. I’d say that I took that idea a little too far when choosing a school.

Around the time of college decisions, this seemed to be all that I heard:

“University of Washington…such a famous campus…”

“My ‘ol pal came outta the University of Washington with a great name and job.”

“You should be a Husky. Everyone knows the Huskies.”

My senior year seemed to be filled with those phrases, expressed by some people who I wanted to please wholeheartedly.

I would attempt to voice my own scholarly qualifications—a community-based campus at a semi-small school, a place where I could take small writing classes, somewhere outside of Seattle so that I could branch away from home—basically, the opposite of UW. Nevertheless, I’d hear come backs saying that I should go for the gold with a big school with a big name and that I should try my interest in business. Yes, I considered business to someday open my own bakery (that’s still the plan), but the idea of writing in college was always such a disappointment to the people who’s opinions I greatly valued. I know that the remarks that they made were out of love and what they thought to be best, which is why I know I have nobody to blame for my college decision but myself.

My looming college acceptance decision was pronounced at a spring dinner, where my peer triumphantly proclaimed where he’d be attending college in the fall. He received that pat on the back, which then led to the crowd asking me, “Can we finally call you a Husky?”

At that moment, I felt like I would let them down if I said I was truly considering a smaller school in northern Washington; a school with no football team (my community lives for football) and an image sub-par to UW (“everyone knows the Huskies”). I weighed my options for that millisecond. Sure, I’d get a good education at UW, yeah I can visit my family more often if I’m still in Seattle, maybe I’d like business school…

Just like that, I made my decision. “I better bring you all some purple and gold sweatshirts,” I said. The weight of choosing was over and I’d made my circle of mentors happy. I could see it in their relieved faces and their remarks for the rest of the night.

Even though it took a while, I’ve more or less found joy in my education and experiences at UW. For a while, I felt completely lost at such a big school and came close to transferring to a smaller school after my freshman and sophomore year. I tried business, which didn’t grab me like the others wanted. Luckily I found the courage to apply to the Creative Writing program, where I have thrived despite my mentor’s initial desires for my major. I’ve gotten the chance to study abroad twice, which on top of the totally invigorating experiences let me spend much-needed time away from the city I had grown up in.

I still think that in the long run I would’ve been happier at my other choice of school. But the tribulations I’ve dealt with and overcome at UW have helped me stand up to my circle of influences in a different way than I ever thought I could. I’ve shown them how much I love my major and how I’m doing something that I find completely worthy of a college degree. I’ve also found the courage to tell them that I plan to travel after college, maybe teach English in a French speaking country or travel for a while without (God forbid) a job.

It’s taken three years for me to feel comfortable with my college decision and now when I talk to these mentors, I can feel a shift in their view of my future. They listen to me about what I want out of my college experience and I can feel that they’re proud of me for finding joy in my college years. It’s still a lot of the same comments from them–“don’t forget that UW is a fantastic school and make those connections at UW, ”–but now I can get that pat on the back from my circle of peers and myself for making UW what I want it to be.

Haley is a senior Creative Writing major and French minor at the University of Washington. When she's not sipping wine and attempting her own great American novel, she's probably eating ice cream or persuading her friends to get ice cream with her. If her hypothetical books never reach the shelves, you'll find her in her fallback career as a gymnastics coach or bakery owner.

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