How To Choose The Perfect School; A Note to My College-Bound Baby Sister

The first thing you need to know is perhaps the most important idea you’ll take away from this entire letter, so pay careful attention to the following sentence:

There is no right or wrong decision.

I promise you. There is so much seemingly in stock to choosing “the right school” or “the best school,” but after my four years, and after hearing about my friends four or five or even six years, I don’t think perfect exists. People have been putting pressure on you, telling you that this decision will affect the rest of your life, and it will, but it won’t make or break you. Your life will be what you make of it, no matter your environment. The next couple years will be some of the craziest, but some of the best no matter which university you choose to attend, so please, please, please, don’t fret about choosing the “wrong school,” because I know you and I know that you will thrive wherever you go.

In the meantime, until you make that final (or at least year or semester long because you’re not locked in to it forever) decision, you’ll have to deal with people pestering you about where you’ve visited, where you’ve been accepted, and what they’re ultimately asking; where you’re going. It’s driving you up the wall isn’t it? I hate to break it to you, but this is only the first of many years to come in terms of these sorts of questions. Yes, believe it or not there will come a time when you will long for the simplicity of the college questions. Keep your head up through the monotony though; it’ll be over soon. Until then, here are a couple of things to consider while you’re muddling through your options:

Don’t let your friends influence your decision

Just because something is right for them, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Just because you won’t be seeing a friend every day, doesn’t mean that you’ll never see them again. And honestly even if you do end up the same place, you still might not see them every day. Don’t worry about relationships falling apart because the beauty about communication in this day and age is that if you care, and if want to keep in touch, you will. Don’t let someone else’s decisions dictate your life.

Make a list of the things that matter

It sounds tedious but trust me; it helps. Make categories of what sorts of things are important to you: class sizes, programs offered, location, club options, food offered, general feel of the campus, weather, etc. etc., and then decide which of those are most important to you, giving them each a weighted score (10-programs offered. 9-whether or not there’s a Starbucks on campus. 8-good study abroad programs 7-quality of the rec center etc. etc.) then if a school has those things, give it the points, if it doesn’t, no points. If a school doesn’t have any points for the things that matter to you, take it off your list, even if it seems like it could still be a good option for some reason. You’ve got to narrow it down somehow. Have a couple items on your list that are non negotiable, and if a school doesn’t have it, don’t be afraid to cut it out of your options. You’ll have to do some research and some soul searching about what’s really important to you, but after you’ve take the time to do it, you’ll feel like your decision was well reasoned, and not just a spur of the moment decision.

Don’t make your choice based off your family’s wants

Listen to our advice, because I like to think that some of it’s good, but don’t let us push you a certain way. Having known you for your entire life, don’t dismiss suggestions until you’ve at least given them some thought, but after you’ve thought things through don’t be afraid to say, “It’s not for me.” Essentially what I’m getting at is don’t go to UW for Dad, go because YOU want to. And if you don’t want to, that’s great too; I promise he’ll still love you. Trust me, I know from personal experience.

Don’t worry if there’s no “golden moment”

For some reason we are lead to believe that there will be a magic moment when you step foot on the campus where you belong, that will assure you that you’re where you need to be. I think this moment might exist for some people, but for a great deal of us, it does not. AND THAT IS FINE! You know how many schools I toured and applied to (don’t pretend you didn’t love the Great California College Tour of 2010) and I did not once feel that I belonged on a single one of those campuses. They were all just nice, and that was an issue for me because I was waiting for some moment of peace, some feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be, and it never came while walking on campus, or opening acceptance letters. It came eventually though. Not until I neared the end of my first year, did I finally look around and feel like I was where I needed to be. The feeling will come; it just might not present itself when you feel like you need it. It will come when you actually need it. Please don’t feel as if you haven’t found your place because you haven’t experienced that golden ah ha moment; it doesn’t occur for everyone right away.

Have faith that you’ll be happy anywhere you go

No matter where you decide to take your next steps those who love you couldn’t be more delighted in who you are as a person and the choices you’ve made in your life. Take this decision seriously, but not too seriously. Take some deep breaths because you’ll be more than fine at whatever institution you decide to attend; you just have to trust that.

Keep makin’ us proud, kid.

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