During my sophomore year of high school, I attended a college fair in Northern Virginia with my best friend. In a way, it seems like it happened just yesterday. I remember visiting the different booths with my friend and discussing our opinions of each school between our walk from one booth to the next.
During the first hour of the fair, I felt really lost. None of the schools “clicked” with me despite the dozens of pamphlets shoved my way and the endless college representatives from across the country that gave enthusiastic sales pitches.
I knew that I preferred urban campuses and a college culture that promoted diversity, authenticity and creativity.
But nothing seemed to fit my interests just right.
When it came to in-state schools, I struggled to find a university with an extensive program for my intended major, journalism.
I started to think that I turned into the Goldie Locks of college decisions. And I worried that I would never find my fit. Some schools seemed too preppy for me. Others just seemed like a continuation of my high school education.
I wanted to move somewhere out of my comfort zone—not at the same college as half of my graduating class. I felt uninspired.
That is, until I visited a booth donned with purple pennants and photos of the New York City skyline.
New York University lured me in with flashy buzzwords like “global citizens” and “the inspiring hub” of the Greenwich Village-centered campus. I looked at a promising poster board filled with photos of international students and thought-provoking curriculums.
That’s when I had my “aha!” moment. I found a school that seemed to fit me like a glove. As Goldie Locks would say, “It was just right”—at least I thought so.
Flash forward to senior year of high school when I received a letter from my dream school. I painted my nails purple for good luck and anxiously refreshed my email’s inbox every minute, on the edge of my seat for the news.
Around 4 p.m. I received a new email, starting with the infamous heart-breaking lines: “We regret to inform you that…”
I shut my laptop lid down and burst into tears.
I cried so loudly that my dad could hear me sobbing from upstairs. Yes, I was pretty melodramatic… try not to laugh. He thought NYU rejected me, but I barely managed to make out the word “waitlisted” though my tears and heavy heaving. Minutes later, I furiously removed my purple nail polish and rattled off a slew of insults to myself under my breath.
I didn’t even consider getting waitlisted. And ironically, I got waitlisted at three of my top schools.
Through my naivety and outright optimism, I simply assumed it would all work out. I didn’t know at the time that everything would work itself out for the best, even if I didn’t end up in New York City.
I never got off the waitlist at any of those schools. I ended up choosing a university that sent one of the first acceptance letters I received: The University of Missouri.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Why would someone that wanted to go to a large, urban school end up in Columbia, Missouri? Here’s where the real story unfolds.
I chose the University of Missouri because I want to become a journalist. The Missouri School of Journalism has one of the oldest and most reputable journalism schools in the country. And, as I’ve been told, its networking system post-graduation (referred to as the “Mizzou Mafia”) is incredibly powerful.
Did I mention journalism students choose from dozens of interest areas, too? Even NYU’s program couldn’t stack up to Mizzou’s. But when I looked at NYU through my rose-colored glasses, I put Mizzou on the backburner.
Now, I am a junior at the Missouri School of Journalism. It’s met—no, exceeded—all of my expectations. I am learning from former professionals in the field and gaining hands on experience that is invaluable for my career. I’ve discovered how vast the school’s network is and met some of the kindest and most talented people along the way.
To be frank, I still think about how different my life would be if I got off the waitlist at NYU and moved to Manhattan. It still stings to know that a school I considered the perfect fit didn’t want me as bad as I wanted it.
And because of my melodramatic nature and fragile state of my own pride, I hardly wear purple nail polish since that one dismal afternoon.
Okay, now you have my permission to laugh.
But I also often think of the school’s drawbacks. For one, the debt would be unreal. A journalist’s salary doesn’t pay much. I could undoubtedly live in crippling debt for years. And although the school had an established journalism program, would I get as much of a rewarding experience with a less-developed program? Probably not.
Weekend trips to The Met and studying in Washington Square Park sound pretty compelling, But I also think about how much it would stink to heavily rely on the New York metro and never have a true “campus” to call my own. I’d most likely feel exhausted after a full day of classes and navigating the city that truly never sleeps.
Still, NYU is a phenomenal school. But it also wasn’t the school for me.
At the end of the day, the college you go to does not define you. Oftentimes, college decisions are a crapshoot. And you should never let the system diminish your worth or crush your dreams.
For those starting your first week at a school they never imagined themselves at, things will get better.
And guess what? If you still don’t love college after a year or two, you can always transfer.
As someone on the other side of college decisions, I can tell you that regardless of where you end up, the world is your oyster … yikes, another cliché!
But really—you will be okay.